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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Mars
Posted: November 2, 2020 at 1:55 pm
Arashi, one of Japans longest-running and most popular supergroups, had zero public online footprint until last November: no Twitter, no Spotify, no YouTube, no Instagram, and certainly no TikTok. Online photos were not even allowed; their agency kept a tight grip on all content and required fans to sign up for an official subscription-based Japanese-language fan site to get band updates.
Now, after a 21-year-long career, two huge changes are happening: the five-man boy band is making big moves to break out further in the U.S. and global markets, and then theyre taking a break.
Arashi has bolstered its global social media presence by creating their first accounts, released the behind-the-scenes doc TV series Arashis Diary Voyage on Netflix and put out their first three English-language singles. The most recent, Party Starters, produced by Sam Hollander (Panic at the Disco, Fitz and the Tantrums), dropped last week and follows the ballad Whenever You Call, a collaboration with Bruno Mars.
This all comes just months before theyre set to indefinitely pause activities at the end of 2020 because band leader Satoshi Ohno, 39, wants to take a break from the entertainment world he entered at age 13.
Unlike the export-minded Korean pop industry that has produced digitally savvy supergroups like BTS and Blackpink, Japans industry has historically focused more exclusively on the local market. And its worked: Jun and the other members of Arashi Sho Sakurai, Satoshi Ohno, Masaki Aiba and Kazunari Ninomiya have become household names in their native Japan. Since the groups 1999 debut, theyve recorded 400 songs, sold over 41 million records and performed for 14 million people, making them one of the most successful groups to emerge from their late former manager Johnny Kitagawas powerhouse agency Johnny & Associates, which has dominated the Japanese entertainment world since the 1960s. Their compilation of hit singles 520 All the Best!! 1999-2019 was the worlds top selling album last year, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, outranking even Taylor Swifts Lover and BTS Map of the Soul: Persona, at 3.3 million copies.
The decision to actually really make a push to bridge the gap between Japan and the rest of the world actually happened completely independently of our decision to go on hiatus, Jun explained to Variety over Zoom through a translator. The deadline of the impending hiatus was what really pushed us to keep focused on doing new things, and held our feet to the fire, so to speak, with regards to the challenges we can still undertake.
He framed the push outward as a way of giving back to the legacy of our agencys founder, Johnny Kitagawa, who died last summer at the age of 87.
In the wake of Johnnys passing, our desire as leaders not just of the Japanese entertainment industry but also as leaders within the Johnnys family was to ask how Arashi could carry his torch forward and be a bridge just as he was between Japan and the U.S, he says rather emotionally, adding that a lot had changed in how the agency is run since Kitagawas death. We wanted to do something that wed never done before in our 21 years of existence, and also to inspire the next generation of Johnnys youths the other groups in the roster to carry on and continue to challenge themselves to do more.
Los Angeles-born Kitagawa brought the American concept of boy bands to Japan at a time when men dancing was not a cultural norm in the country. His agency, with its rigorous training system, went on to launch some of the biggest names in Japanese pop, like SMAP and KAT-TUN, landing 232 number one singles between 1974 and 2010.
But he was also plagued with accounts of harassment and sexual abuse of numerous young recruits. Critics say that the allegations have been ignored by Japanese media due to the powerful influence of his agency in Japan.
When asked what he thought Kitagawas legacy really should be, Jun spoke only of the hit-making system the manager had brought to Asia.
Johnny created so many boy bands in his 60 years of working and left an indelible mark not just on the entertainment industry of Japan, by bringing it up to a global standard, but also on Asian pop culture overall, even outside of Japan, [visible in] the rise of the Asian pop generation, he says. What youre currently seeing now with non-Japanese groups as well all really found its roots in the foundational work that Johnny did back in the 1960s.
Even though K-pop is exploding globally, Jun says he harbors no hard feelings.
I feel no sense of the kind of tribalism that some people might imagine, but rather a sense of pride that the architecture that Johnny laid the foundations for decades ago is now finally starting to cross borders. Even if its not being done by Johnny, per se, the legacy still continues and is alive and well. You can see the flowers taking root in other cultures and countries, he says. Laughing, he admitted, Ive definitely heard Dynamite quite a few times, referring to the K-pop group BTS first entirely English-language single that made them the first Korean group to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. While Whenever You Call, the groups collaboration with Bruno Mars, did not reach those chart peaks, its received a warm reception from international fans who appreciate their idols new accessibility on YouTube and social channels.
The Arashi members had long been fans of Mars, Jun says, and felt that he is an international figure who would help bolster the reach of [their] music and translate it for new audiences. Initial plans to physically record together were dashed by the coronavirus, but they proceeded remotely.
To be honest, when we first heard the song after Bruno first sent us the demo track, we were a little surprised, Jun admitted. The band had expected something a little more upbeat, a little faster, rather than a mid-tempo ballad kind of song with an easy listening element, which they found a little shocking at first.
They warmed up to the track because of its lyrics about loyalty and connection, and have come to feel that the message was prescient and perfect for both long-term fans sad about their upcoming hiatus and people around the world separated during the pandemic. (Ill come running whenever you call, goes the chorus.)
None of the band members are fluent in English. Jun says that though mastering the lyrics was a struggle, the texture of the foreign tongue gave them a sense of freedom.
Unlike in Japanese, where every individual sound has to be articulated in order to make sense just as a language, English allows for a lot more flexibility in terms of the way that different words can be extended or shortened in order to fit a particular rhythm, or the way sounds can [blur] from one word into another, says Jun.
While some are delighted by Arashis new online presence, local Japanese fans used to the traditional model of subscription fan sites and exclusive, paid access are not always thrilled.
Jun described the extent of his worries about potential backlash earlier this year when they decided to make previously DVD-only concert footage available to stream for free online for the first time. When [our live tour] Untitled was going to be posted on our YouTube channel, I was sure there would be complaints, he said in an Instagram story. He was moved to tears when core fans accepted the choice. From 11 a.m., I was at home alone watching the comments. I couldnt stop crying for three or four hours.
He explainsthat a constant challenge for the band has been to strike a balance between traditional fans used to a certain way of getting close to us and foreign fans who have a completely different set of expectations, he says.
We really didnt want all the people who have supported us through thick and thin for 21 years and who really want and need, in a sense, the value that more physical goods and the traditional exclusivity provide to feel left out or disrespected, he concludes, especially after all the love and support theyve offered for so long.
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Emirates Mars Mission kicks off ‘Hope Generation’ initiative to inspire a new generation of engineers – WAM EN
Posted: at 1:55 pm
DUBAI, 2nd November, 2020 (WAM) -- The UAE Space Agency and Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre has announced the kick-off of 'Generation Hope' initiative under the Emirates Mars Mission, EMM, - Hope Probe, the first interplanetary mission undertaken by an Arab nation, that comes as part of its education and outreach efforts. Held between November 2020 until January 2021, it provides an avenue for qualified youth and interested individuals to develop an interest in space science field.
Since its inception six years ago, the EMM aims inspire the youth through the Mars mission journey, motivate youth to develop an interest in STEM studies, and to build capabilities in space science research, specifically Mars science, within UAE students and science community by providing the opportunity through different outreach and education programs. In line with the missions goal, Generation Hope seeks to also promote space science education and research, and engage with the public from all age groups in the mission.
Generation Hope will also host Hopes Science Journey webinars series throughout November. It will provide a scientific overview of the mission, introduction to a Mars visualization tools, information on EMM science data access, and more.
The first introduction session was held on 1st November and the second will take place on 4th November. The in-depth session, will be held the following week. Registrations for both sessions of the Hopes Science Journey webinar are now open.
Also, bi-weekly webinars in English and Arabic will be held with the Emirates Mars Mission team to highlight different concepts in space systems and science and showcase the team members roles in the mission.
Generation Hope will be running two camps in December and January. The first is a five-day Generation Hope Camp in December that will focus on hosting workshops for middle and high school students aged 12 to 18 years old about Mars and related science topics, and the latest updates on the EMM.
The second is a two-day a specialised and intensive camp titled A Journey to Mars, that will be held for distinguished undergraduates in STEM fields, where the EMM Science Team will share their experience and expertise on their journey of development through the mission and insights about important scientific topics related to the mission and Mars research.
Generation Hopes series of interactive activities also include the annual Teacher Ambassador Programme, TAP, now in its fifth year, which is designed to fully equip STEM educators from different schools in the UAE to serve as ambassador teachers at EMM educational initiatives. EMM will provide the teachers with the knowledge and material required to educate and train a new generation of space scientists and engineers.
The programme will also launch a competition in December 2020, titled Newton STEM Challenge, which aims to utilise teachers creativity in process of activities development. In this first version, the teachers will need to design a game, experiment or activity to explain Newtons laws of motion based on their current curriculum learning objectives.
Omran Sharaf, Project Director of the Emirates Mars Mission, said, "Generation Hopes initiatives are in line with the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers in UAE. Reaching Mars is not the final goal, but its the means for us to build a culture built on research, exploration, and innovation. At the same time, these outreach programs provide the mission team with an opportunity to share its knowledge and experience with the next generation. We are pleased to see the growing interest in the space sector and look forward to continue hosting students in activities and events related to space exploration, and hopefully encourage them to consider careers in STEM."
Noora Al Rafi, Deputy Project Manager - Strategic Planning of Emirates Mars Mission, said, "Inspiring youth and increasing their interest in the space sector is one of the most important strategic objectives of the Emirates Mars Mission. It comes as part of the efforts to contribute to the national diversified economy one that is built on knowledge and innovation. As a result, we put a strong focus on the Generation Hope initiative and the qualitative programs that fall under its umbrella. We appreciate the efforts of the Generation Hope partners and their close cooperation to achieve the specific objectives."
Also held under the Generation Hope Initiative is the Research Experience for Undergraduates, REU, Programme; a unique programme designed to offer Emirati students specialising in science and engineering an opportunity to gain practical and research-based experience at distinguished space science facilities in the UAE and abroad. Students will be mentored by EMMs science team, as well as local and international scientists in the field of space science. Scheduled for next summer, registration for the seventh edition of the REU will open soon.
Hessa Al Matrooshi, Science Deputy Project Manager, said, "Developing scientific capabilities in the UAE is an important pillar for the UAE governments vision as encourage an environment that motivates innovation and scientific research and fosters a new generation of Emirati scientists, researchers and academics. The Generation Hope initiatives provide youth and students with opportunities to interact and benefit from the expertise of many space experts from leading centers around the world through the REU, the educational outreach program hosted by the Emirates Mars Mission, in cooperation with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center. We look forward to welcoming another batch of students in the upcoming seventh edition of the program next summer."
Moza Alsharif, Emirates Mars Mission Science Initiatives Coordinator, said, "Since the beginning of the REU programme in 2015, the number of students applying has continuously increased, and more than ever, weve noticed a larger number of students specialised in sciences who have shared an interest. Overall, the program has impacted dozens of students, and some changed their career path to pursue space science research as a career. We look forward to more success stories as a result of this programme."
Since the announcement of the project six years ago, there has been an increase in interest for STEM studies. Today, more than 100,000 students and teachers have engaged in these community outreach programmes, most notably the Generation Hope initiative.
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Posted: at 1:55 pm
SpaceX will not recognise international law on Mars, according to the Terms of Service of its Starlink internet project.
Elon Musks space company will instead reportedly adhere to a set of self-governing principles" that will be defined at the time of Martian settlement.
Any future colony created by SpaceX would likely use constellations of Starlink satellites orbiting the planet to provide internet connection to people and machines on the surface.
More than 800 of the internet satellites have already been launched into orbit around Earth, with tens of thousands more planned in the coming years.
A Starlink app launched in certain regions this week, following a successful beta test of the networks capabilities in parts of the US and Canada.
Users noted that the terms of service within the app state that Starlink services provided to Earth or Moon will be governed in accordance with the laws of the State of California.
Beyond our planet and its satellite, however, the laws and regulations by which it will abide are less clear.
For services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonisation spacecraft, the parties recognise Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities, the governing law section states.
Accordingly, disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.
Space systems engineer Erwan Beauvois said SpaceXs position was reminiscent of a declaration put forward by the Earthlight Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to preparing for the expansion of humanity beyond Earth.
The Independent has contacted SpaceX.
Posted: at 1:55 pm
A variety of polling, sophisticatedmarket research techniques, modeling and expert political forecasting in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign season points to Joe Biden winning the presidential election, at least by a narrow margin,and possibly more. Some of the research also suggests the biggest loser of the election wont be the incumbent President, but the American public. But not for the reasons you think.
A revealing insight from Ipsos tracking suggests a significant percentage of Americans wont accept the outcome of the election -- no matter what the outcome -- and thatits not because of simple political partisanship, but because they actually come from another planet that has an alternate view of reality.
That planet is calledFox News Channel, but according to Ipsos top political expert Chris Jackson, it might as well be called Mars.
This is really important to understand, Jacksonsaid during the last in a series of Ipsos political briefings leading up to this years election, noting were not even necessarily talking about the same reality. In a lot of ways,some of us are talking about Mars and others are talking about Venus.
Citing studies Ipsos conducted with Reuters and Axios, Jackson noted that regardless of their politicalaffiliation, Americans who get their news from Fox have a different sense of reality.
The studies, which asked voters of all parties whether they agreed or disagreed with two facts-- the official U.S. COVID-19 death toll and whether they approve of the Presidents handling of it -- found alternate views of those realities even within the same party, depending on whetherthey depended on Fox as their source for news.
We see a huge difference between Fox News Republicans and non-Fox News Republicans, Jackson said while presenting thedata shown in the chart above. He also noted the same thing was true among Independent voters, depending on whether they got their news from Fox or not.
Theres a strongdivergence about what we understand to be ground truths and ground facts, Jackson bemoaned, adding that this disparity could create problems next week based on how various mediaoutlets report on the elections results, especially if it is a close election.
How partisans interpret that reporting is really going to impact how we all handlethat post-election period, Jackson forewarned.
While Jackson didnt explicitly editorialize on the culpability of any media outlets, this is an opinion-based politicalblog, so I think its fair for me to say his findings illustrate just how dangerous Fox News Channel has been to American democracy. Istead of unifying us around common ground, it has focused onspreading alternate views of truth that have contributed to what Jackson described as the most chaotic political season ever. And based on his caution, it likely will be the most chaoticpost-election period, too.
I understand that, at some level, offering a different political point of view is healthy for democracy, but offering different facts is not. Thatsnormally the role of hostile foreign agents -- especially Russians -- who use disinformation as part of their hybrid warfare to destabilize Western democracies. It shouldnt be the role of ahomegrown American media enterprise.
Worst of all, it has proven to be a successful business strategy, driving Fox News ratings and revenues. According to a Pew ResearchCenter analysis, Fox News ad revenues actually surged 41% during the pandemic. And Im guessing that wasnt all from the My Pillow Guy. Im guessing a lot of it came frommainstream consumer brand marketers who actually care about the negative impact Fox News disinformation -- er, I mean alternate facts -- are having on Americandemocracy.
So I just have to ask -- at a time when you all seem so consumed by brand safety -- youre not applying the same standards to Americassafety?
Mars reveals progress on its Cocoa For Generations billion-dollar cocoa sustainability plans – Confectionery Production
Posted: at 1:55 pm
US-based Mars Wrigley has released its 2020 Cocoa for Generations report, updating progress on its $1 billion investment over a decade on its drive to ensure 100% sustainability for its cocoa sourcing in key markets of Ghana and Ivory Coast, reports Neill Barston
The business, which is behind brands including Dove, M&Ms, Maltesers and Snickers, has set itself a target of 2025 for its goal of improving lives of farming communities in West Africa that form a major part of its supply chains.
Among the key areas of progress confirmed in its latest report, titled Reshaping the future of cocoa, child protection features heavily, with 51% percent of the total volumes of cocoa it sourced from at-risk areas in Ivory Coast and Ghana came from farmer groups with Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems in place. This no represents an increase in households monitored by 79% year-on-year, reaching an estimated total of 34,000 homes.
However, despite notable progress being made on the issue, it comes in the wake of the major US study from NORC at the University of Chicago, which last month revealed that there remained a total of 1.56 million children found to be in child labour within the two West African nations, as the issue remains bound to wider issues of poverty and urgent need for roll-out of human rights due diligence which campaigners have continued to press for.
Other areas of covered by the new Mars study include a focus on preserving forests, which has seen the company build on its commitment to cocoa supply chain transparency, with the business releasing its Tier 1 supplier disclosure followed by its Tier 2 farmer group disclosure accompanied by an interactive map.
Significantly, the report also hones in on its other key area of improving farmer income. As Confectionery Production has previously reported, Mars was among the first chocolate company to publicly support the Living Income Differential (LID) presently being delivered by the governments of Ghana and Ivory Coast. The company said it encouraged other businesses to do the same, adding that it continues to work on solutions to bring about further improve farmers finances.
Andrew Clarke, Mars Wrigley Global President said: Today we recognise the progress weve made on our goals of increasing cocoa farmer income, protecting children, supporting womens social and economic empowerment, and tackling deforestation. While some in the industry are accelerating with us, collectively we must go further and faster to reshape the cocoa sector. Were calling for robust public-private collaborations so that human rights are respected, and the environment is protected, as we create a modern, inclusive and sustainable cocoa supply for the next generations to thrive.
Furthermore, as the company noted, its report details significant achievements to date, which include its Covid-19 response, the launch of its Protecting Children Action Plan detailing its approach to protecting children in cocoa-growing communities, the release of its Tier 2 cocoa farmer group disclosure and interactive map, and its efforts to halt deforestation in Cte dIvoire and Ghana as part of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative.
Launched in 2018 and backed by past learnings and a US$1 billion investment, Cocoa for Generations has two pillars: Responsible Cocoa Today which focuses on cocoa being responsibly sourced and traceable by 2025, and Sustainable Cocoa Tomorrow which focuses on long-term scaling up of programs and collaborations shown to help improve productivity, diversify incomes and empower women and communities. Both are essential to Mars Wrigleys treating and snacking business and the iconic and beloved chocolate brands that bring better moments and smiles across the world.
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Posted: October 4, 2020 at 3:06 am
You can follow NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover in real time as it makes its way to the Red Planet.
The interactive NASA web application Eyes on the Solar System shows you where Perseverance is as the rover travels millions of miles over the next few months. The rover, which launched on July 30, is scheduled to touch down inside Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.
"Eyes on the Solar System visualizes the same trajectory data that the navigation team uses to plot Perseverance's course to Mars," Fernando Abilleira, the Mars 2020 mission design and navigation manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, said in a statement. "If you want to follow along with us on our journey, that's the place to be."
Related: NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission in photos
Using the app, which you can find here, you can track the remaining distance between Perseverance and Mars at any time, view Perseverance up close and compare the spacecraft's size to that of other NASA probes, such as Juno, Voyager 1 or the Parker Solar Probe. You can also fly in formation with Perseverance or check the relative velocity between Earth and Mars or other objects like the dwarf planet Pluto, according to the statement.
"With all our orbital assets circling Mars as well as Curiosity and InSight on its surface, there is new data and imagery coming in all the time about the Red Planet," Jon Nelson, visualization technology and applications development supervisor at JPL, said in the same statement. "Essentially, if you haven't seen Mars lately through Eyes on the Solar System, you haven't seen Mars."
After Perseverance lands, the rover will hunt for signs of habitable environments on Mars and search for signs of past microbial life. The rover is also designed to collect a series of samples that can be returned to Earth with a future mission and carries the Mars Helicopter, named Ingenuity, which will be the first rotary craft to fly on another planet.
Follow Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Posted: at 3:06 am
Friday night is date night for two bright celestial meetups that will light up the sky tonight (Oct. 2 - Oct. 3).
If skies are clear in your area during the overnight hours, you'll have an opportunity to see the nearly-full moon snuggling up with a shining Mars, followed some hours later by an even more brilliant Venus pairing off with one of the brightest stars in the sky.
On Friday night, Oct. 2, the moon, just one day past its "Harvest Full Moon" phase, will appear to glide closely above the planet Mars.
This dance will be a near facsimile of another close moon-Mars approach which took place less than a month ago on Sept. 5. That time, Mars and the moon approached each other a bit more closely than the upcoming rendezvous. But as if to compensate, this time Mars will appear twice as bright.
That's because Mars is only days away from making its closest approach to Earth on Oct. 6, while arriving at its best opposition until 2035 on Oct. 13. Both conditions mean the planet is now shining prominently with a dazzling yellow-orange glow.
Skywatchers located in Patagonia, the sparsely populated region at the southern end of South America, will actually see the moon hide Mars for a short time. (The International Occultation Times Association offers a map of visibility and more details about this "Mars eclipse." The same region will catch a total eclipse of the sun on Dec. 14.)
But if you aren't located in Patagonia, there's still plenty to see tonight. The close approach of Mars to the moon will be visible across the contiguous United States and southern Canada. The time of closest approach will come later in the evening as you head east.
Depending on where you're located, moon and planet will be separated by 1.25 degrees to 1.5 degrees. Since the moon measures 0.5 degrees in width, you might assume that the gap between it and Mars will appear to be equal to three full moon widths. However, thanks to an optical illusion, the moon actually appears twice as large, making the gap seem much smaller.
If you live in the Pacific Time Zone, Mars and the moon will appear closest at around 8:20 p.m. For the Mountain Time Zone, the closest approach will come at about 9:35 p.m. Across the Central Time Zone, it's 11 p.m., while in the Eastern Time Zone the closest approach comes in the early hours of Saturday morning, at roughly 12:25 a.m.
The moon appears to move east in its orbit around the Earth at the rate of its own diameter each hour. This movement will be readily evident using Mars as a benchmark. From New York City, for example, when the moon and Mars appear very low over the eastern horizon at around 8 p.m., Mars will appear to the moon's upper left. But after midnight, Mars will appear to be hovering directly above the moon and by 6 a.m. on Saturday, Mars will appear to the moon's lower right as they descend across the west-southwest sky.
Although Mars and the nearly full moon will appear side by side, don't fall for the ubiquitous internet hoax implying that Mars can seem to loom as large as the moon.
In tonight's tableau, Mars will be only 1.27% as large as the disk of the moon. So, to the naked eye it will appear not as a disk, but as a non-twinkling, albeit brilliant, "star."
No doubt many people who are out on the first Friday evening of October might do a double-take should they cast their gaze up toward the moon and wonder, "What is that fiery star that happens to be hovering above it?" But unless they're looking through the eyepiece of a telescope, nobody should expect to see Mars even remotely resembling a moon-size object.
Early on Saturday morning we will be treated to another unusual sight, when Venus, the most brilliant planet, passes exceptionally close to Regulus, one of the brightest stars in the sky, located in the zodiacal constellation of Leo the Lion.
Regulus is the 21st brightest star in the sky and marks the heart of the Lion; the star's name is Latin for "Little King." Regulus is 79 light-years away and is actually not a single star, but a quadruple star system composed of two pairs of stars.
Venus is by far and away the brightest morning "star" and will remain the focal point of the eastern dawn sky through the autumn.Venus rises a bit more than three hours before sunrise, before even the first light of dawn.
In the days and weeks to come, early risers will take note of the fact that the sparkling planet will slowly move lower in the sky and fade slightly. But it is still positioned almost as well as it can be for any predawn apparition.
And on Saturday morning, Venus willbe positioned just over half a degree to the south of Regulus. In the mornings that follow, the dazzling planet will move noticeably east of the star.
But spotting Regulus close to Venus on Saturday morning might initially be a bit of a challenge because of Venus's overpowering brilliance. Binoculars will bea great assistance, as Venusis now shining at magnitude -4.1 compared tobluish Regulus at magnitude+1.3.Convertingthis 5.4-magnitude difference into a ratio, we find thatRegulus one of the 21 brightest stars in the sky shines only 0.6% as bright as Venus.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York'sHayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy forNatural History magazine, theFarmers' Almanacand other publications. Follow uson Twitter@Spacedotcomand onFacebook.
Posted: at 3:05 am
Mars is lighting up the night sky as the planet heads toward an unusually close approach to Earth on Oct. 6.
If you look low in the eastern sky on any clear evening this week, soon after darkness falls, you'll see a fiery, pumpkin-hued "star" blazing brilliantly. Despite the "Red Planet" moniker, the weeks surrounding Mars' close approach are a perfect time to appreciate the planet's true hue, a yellowish orange, the color of a dry desert under a high sun which is exactly what you're looking at.
Astronomers use a scale called magnitude to rate the brightness of celestial objects and these days, Mars is shining at an eye-popping magnitude of -2.6. The lower the magnitude, the brighter the object, with stars on the threshold of naked-eye visibility classed as sixth magnitude. The most brilliant objects in the sky have negative magnitudes: Sirius, the brightest star, shines at magnitude -1.4, Venus can peak at -4.8, the full moon is -12.7 and the sun blazes at -26.7.
Throughout most of October, Mars and its topaz glow shine brighter than any other object in its region of the sky, except, however, on those nights when the moon is nearby (such as on Oct. 2 and Oct. 29).
Of course, any unusually close approach of Mars to the Earth will make the planet appear exceptionally brilliant and indeed, from now through late November, Mars will easily outshine Sirius and even Jupiter, which is typically the second brightest planet.
On Oct. 13, Mars will reach "opposition," the moment when the sun, Earth and Mars form a straight line in space. When a planet reaches opposition, it lies exactly opposite from the sun in Earth's sky: It rises at sunset, reaches its highest point in the sky at midnight, and sets at sunrise.
Imagine the solar system as a giant racetrack. Earth is moving in the inner lane, Mars comes to opposition when the faster-moving Earth overtakes and passes the outer planet. Mars comes to opposition about every 26 months. But because the orbits of both Earth and Mars are elliptical, not all oppositions are created equal.
This year's opposition is particularly promising for skywatchers because Mars recently passed its closest point to the sun, or perihelion, on Aug. 3. That means Mars will approach within less than 40 million miles (64 million kilometers) of Earth. Such "perihelic oppositions," as they're called, of Mars are rather infrequent, usually occurring about every 15 to 17 years.
But sometimes Mars can come unusually close to Earth on consecutive oppositions, which last occured in 1986 and 1988. This approach is the second in another pair: Just over 26 months ago, on July 27, 2018, Mars came just 2.78 million miles (4.48 million km) closer to Earth than it will come this year. But for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this year's opposition will make for much better skywatching.
Recent perihelic oppositions saw Mars approach Earth to within 34.9 million miles (56.1 million km) in August 1971, 37.5 million miles (60.4 million km) in July 1986 and 36.5 million miles (58.7 million km) in September 1988. Then, on Aug. 27, 2003 Mars arrived at perihelion just a scant 42 hours after its opposition. This was the closest that Mars approached our planet in nearly 60,000 years: 34.6 million miles (55.7 million km).
Because Earth and Mars follow elliptical orbits around the Sun, Mars' closest approach to Earth usually occurs several days before or after opposition. Utilizing the United States Naval Observatory's Multiyear Interactive Computer Almanac (MICA), I found that this year on Oct. 6, Mars will come within 38,568,816 miles (62,070,493 km) of Earth at 10:18 a.m. EDT (1418 GMT). At that moment, it will take a light beam 3 minutes and 27 seconds to cross the interplanetary gulf between Earth and Mars.
Opposition comes a week later, on Oct. 13. And it's going to be a while until the next opposition brings Mars even closer; that will not occur until Sept. 11, 2035, when the planet will be 35.4 million miles (56.9 million km) away.
Even after Oct. 13, however, Mars' inevitable fade will start out very slow and gradual. Mars will continue to shine at a magnitude of 2.6 through Oct. 17 and will still outshine Jupiter through Oct. 27. The Red Planet will continue to rival Sirius, the brightest star, until Nov. 20.
The next opposition of Mars will come in early December 2022, but because Mars will then be more than 12 million miles (19 million km) farther from Earth as compared to this month's extreme opposition, it will appear to shine with just one-half of its current radiance; in telescopes its disc will appear 24% smaller than it does now.
Skywatchers observing this opposition can take advantage of Mars' high altitude as compared to two years ago.
Back in July 2018, Mars was in Capricornus the Sea Goat, a constellation that appears low in the southern sky for most people watching from northern locations. Any object that appears less than 30 above the horizon tends to experience atmospheric turbulence; in telescopes the image seems to quiver or "boil," making it difficult to see surface features.
Your clenched fist held at arm's length is equal to 10, and two summers ago, Mars appeared less than "three fists" above the southern horizon, in that region of turbulence. This year's opposition finds Mars shining in the constellation of Pisces the Fishes, a star pattern that climbs much higher, and Mars will soar about 30 higher in the sky than it did in 2018 nearly "six fists" high and well above any unstable atmospheric effects.
That makes now a great time to check out Mars in a small telescope. Because it is a relatively small planet (only about twice the size of our moon), it rarely appears very big through a telescope. But now, as it is within close range, you can check it out for yourself. If you have a 3-inch telescope, try using an 80-power eyepiece, which should turn Mars into a sizable disc and bring out some of its darker surface features. Larger apertures will bring even better views. With a 6-inch instrument, you can try 160-power; 12-inches, use 320-power.
In 2018, the poor altitude was compounded by a planet-wide Martian dust storm that obscured virtually everything that might be seen. But this year, so far, no significant dust storms have developed, so visibility across the planet's disk is excellent.
According to Long Island amateur skywatcher Frank J. Melillo, who regularly observes and photographs the planets from his home in Holtsville, NY: "So far so good! The Martian atmosphere is still free of haze and dust clouds at this moment in time. But who knows? The dust storm might start kicking up the clouds tonight, next week, next month or (hopefully) not this year!"
Take advantage now for, as we noted earlier, Mars won't be this close again for another 15 years.
Interestingly, there is a 79-year-long cycle, over which the circumstances of a specific Mars opposition will replicate almost exactly.
On Oct. 3, 1941, for instance, Mars made a close approach to Earth much like this year's. At its closest that year, Mars was just 414,000 miles (666,000 km) closer to Earth than it will be this Oct. 6.
And 79 years from now, on Oct. 10, 2099, Mars will again make another unusually close approach to Earth, though falling just short of matching this year's by 400,000 miles (643,000 km).
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York'sHayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy forNatural History magazine, theFarmers' Almanacand other publications. Follow uson Twitter@Spacedotcomand onFacebook.
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Like many workplaces this spring, NASA sent its most of its employees home and hunkered down. While the agency put some projects on hold, it pressed ahead with others. A pair of NASA astronauts flew to the International Space Station and back in a SpaceX capsule. The Mars rover Perseverance launched on its months-long journey into deep space. These efforts, years in the making, were nearing their finish lines as the coronavirus spread across the country, and NASA deemed them mission essential.
Read: The Pandemic has grounded humankind
Both launches, especially the historic flight of Doug Hurley and Bob Behnkenwhom NASA affectionately advertised as space dadsfor a moment drew Americans attention from a seemingly ceaseless current of tragedies, including stories of infected Americans dying in ambulances and footage of Black Americans dying at the hands of white police officers. Some people were delighted, grateful for a spot of good news. Others were surprised, even aghast, at the timing. Youre doing this now? Really?
The critique echoed the feelings of many Americans during NASAs most famous era: the race to the moon. In the late 1960s, the Apollo program unfolded against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, civil-rights demonstrations, and political assassinations. Polling from that time shows that the majority of Americans didnt think the Apollo program was worth the cost. The exception was a survey conducted on the day of the moon landing, when the mood around the world was euphoric. Even in that moment, though, the problems of our planet firmly grounded the minds of some AmericansGil Scott-Heron captured this most famously, in his 1970 poem: I think Ill send these doctor bills / Airmail special / To whitey on the moon.
Still, space historians told me, in those halcyon days of human spaceflight, even with all its turmoil, the country functioned on a basic level. In the late 1960s, a different virus known as the Hong Kong flu killed roughly 100,000 Americans, but did not destabilize the country the way COVID-19 has. Throughout the decade, the national economy was thriving, and an American passport meant something. Though the Vietnam War roiled American politics, the active front was in a distant country. The wars toll was heavyan estimated 47,434 Americans died in battle between 1964 and 1975but in six months, COVID-19 deaths in the United States outnumbered American casualties in the past five wars combined.
Even before the pandemic paralyzed the country, the prospect of Americans making it to Mars in the 2030s was far-fetched. In February 2019, a year before the first American died from COVID-19, an independent research group published a report about NASAs Mars dreams. At Congresss request, NASA had asked the group to evaluate whether the agency could launch astronauts to the red planet in 2033, not to land, but to loop around and come back, as the early Apollo missions did. The conclusion was bleak; given NASAs current plans, an orbital mission would be infeasible under all budget scenarios and technology development and testing schedules. The researchers found that astronauts might be able to launch in 2037, without any schedule delays or budget shortfalls, but believed 2039 would be more realistic, which would push a landing to the 2040s. (The institute that conducted the report has not done any analysis on the pandemics potential impact on these ambitious plans.)
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Patrick Gasda is a staff scientist in the Space Science and Applications group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. As a member of the OrganiCam team, he works with team leader Roger Wiens to study the geochemistry and astrobiology of Europa. The concept phase of OrganiCam is being funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. Gasda contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
In the disappointing absence of little green aliens on one of Jupiter's moons or a canal-building civilization on Mars, hunting for life beyond Earth stretches our scientific and technological prowess to the limits. If we do find life out there, it will be tiny, on the molecular scale.
After a successful launch in late July, NASA's Perseverance rover is sailing silently through space on its seven-month journey to Mars, where it will scour Jezero Crater for evidence of habitability and life. In this peaceful interlude before the rover's Red Planet touchdown early next year, we have time to think about future missions seeking life on other planetary bodies across the solar system.
Related: 6 most likely places for alien life in the solar system
Those missions will hunt for biological organic molecules, the carbon-based building blocks that make up all living things that we know. That's because, if we eventually do find life or evidence of past life on Mars or somewhere else, it's not going to be a little green alien. It's going to be a biomolecule or fossilized bacterial life.
The search focuses on habitable environments on Mars and beyond. Recent missions to the outer planets have observed evidence of water-vapor plumes from Jupiter's moon Europa, which raises the intriguing possibility of organic molecules on its surface, originating from the ocean below. Spacecraft have detected organic molecules within plumes emanating from Saturn's moon Enceladus. Most recently, NASA's Dawn spacecraft flew within 22 miles (35 kilometers) of the surface of Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, and detected brine and a likely vast, deep reservoir of liquid salt water.
These are all high-priority places to look.
As one of the likeliest places to find life and certainly the closest Mars continues to command our attention. Although the cold, dry land, thin atmosphere, and extreme radiation at the surface are hostile to life, NASA's Curiosity rover, which is now exploring Mars, has found organic molecules. But are they biological? It's hard to tell because any molecules on the surface would have been severely damaged by radiation over millions of years.
Biological organics might be more widespread in the lava-tube caves on Mars. Sheltered deep in the underground, life might once have thrived or still does? in salty brines that seeped from now-disappeared surface lakes. Salty water has a lower freezing temperature than plain water, and deep underground heat from Mars' mantle might keep water liquid.
To find out if life might have formed any of the organic molecules on Mars, we've got to send instruments capable of answering that question, but exploring Mars deep underground is a daunting task. Most known lava tubes on Mars have at least one skylight opening to the surface. While we don't know how deep these caves are, their mouths are 300 feet (91 meters) wide, and some are thought to descend at least a quarter-mile (0.4 km) underground.
Why not fly in? To do so, our instruments must be simple, rugged, lightweight and compact. The same goes for sending instruments to the rugged, icy, high-radiation environments of Europa, Enceladus or Ceres. To meet these challenging criteria, Los Alamos National Laboratory has leveraged expertise designing and fielding instruments for space exploration to develop a new model, OrganiCam.
Life on Mars: Exploration and evidence
One precursor instrument developed at Los Alamos, ChemCam, is currently exploring Mars on the Curiosity rover. Sitting high on the rover's mast, ChemCam fires an infrared laser beam at rocks and soils, creating a hot plasma. The instrument then measures the colors of light in the plasma, which provide clues about the rocks' elemental composition. A camera provides highly detailed photographs of the laser targets, which also help scientists determine the surface geology.
ChemCam's discoveries have deepened our knowledge of Mars as a once warmer and more habitable planet, revolutionized our understanding of the planet's geology, and prompted us to revise upward our estimates of the former abundances of surface water and oxygen in the atmosphere both conditions for life.
SuperCam, developed jointly by Los Alamos with the French space agency, is ChemCam on steroids. Now sailing to Mars as part of Perseverance's Mars 2020 mission, SuperCam combines ChemCam's remote chemistry capabilities and imaging with two mineralogy techniques, making it even better at detecting compounds related to the possibility of life. On top of that, it can record sound through a microphone, a first on Mars.
As the next branch of the family tree, OrganiCam brings further innovations, including unique fast-fluorescence imaging for detecting not just organics, but biomolecules. Here's how it works. When stimulated by the laser, biological organic molecules emit quick bursts of light (about 100 nanoseconds). But other materials, like rock, emit light more slowly (microseconds to milliseconds). OrganiCam uses the same super-fast camera as SuperCam to measure these fast emissions, letting us discriminate biological signals from the background rocks. As a next step in the instrument's analysis, Raman spectroscopy identifies the molecular structure of the biological materials, so we can tell limestone from a volcanic rock.
OrganiCam also features ultra-radiation-hardened lenses, greater energy efficiency and a lighter and more compact design than its predecessors, so a small drone could carry it to far more places on Mars than it could go by piggybacking on a rover. Even better, a drone could whisk the instrument deep into one of those lava-tube caves. OrganiCam could also easily be adapted to a mission on an icy world. (You can watch a video about OrganiCam here.)
OrganiCam can be pointed at more earthly pursuits as well. It can nondestructively detect biological materials in unique samples without destroying them, such as material returned by missions from the outer planets and asteroids, and it can assess the presence of biological organics in cleanrooms, hospitals or other sterile facilities, to help stem the spread of infections or impurities in industrial processes.
While these are worthy assignments for this new instrument, for those of us on the Los Alamos team that developed OrganiCam, the lure of finding evidence of life on another planet, a moon, an asteroid or a comet is the overwhelming motivation. A discovery of that magnitude is every scientist's dream. I hope we get the chance.
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