BAN #161: Tanya of Mars, Lucy of Trojans

28 October 2019   Issue #161

[Saturn image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute / Gordan Ugarkovic]

Subscribers are rare and precious and may or may not have little bubbles of Martian gas in them.

A Bit o’ Science

The entirety of science is too much for one sitting. Here’s a morsel for you.

Take four minutes out of your life and watch this great video of Dr. Tanya Harrison — @TanyaOfMars — talk about Martian meteorites: What they are, how we know they’re from Mars, and what they mean for people who study the Red Planet.

The video is from my friend Geoffrey Notkin, a meteorite hunter, collector, and seller. I’ll have more about him and meteorites in a later issue. But I’ll note that the last time I met up with Geoffrey was at the Denver Gem and Mineral Show, and while we were talking Richard Garner, who runs The Space Collective, came up to chat. He’s a lovely man whom I met at a previous meeting, where we talked about meteorites as well.

He didn’t have much time, so we talked for only a moment, but he gave me two meteorites: One from the Moon and one from Mars!

[Moon and Mars meteorites. The “NWA” designation means they were found in Northwest Africa (Morocco for the Martian one and likely Mauritania or Mali for the lunar one) and the numbers identify them. Credit: Phil Plait]

Both are 0.05 grams, so just a few millimeters across, but they came from other worlds. I have quite a few meteorites, all of them from asteroids unknown. But these we do know, and let me tell you it’s quite a thing to hold them in your hand.

Again, I’ll have more about this in a later issue. Stay tuned.

Space news

Space is big. That’s why we call it “space”

I don’t generally write about space missions before they launch, for many reasons. For one thing, there’s not usually a lot of news about the mission before launch (barring things like NuSTAR); I prefer to wait until there is some solid stuff to write about.

… but that’s for the blog, which has been my main writing outlet for a long, long time. But now I have a newsletter, perfect for shorter blurbs! So:

The NASA mission Lucy, which will head to Jupiter’s orbit to investigate co-orbital asteroids there, just passed its Critical Design Review! This is a huge kilometerstone*; the CDR is NASA’s last hurdle for a mission before it goes from being designed to being actually built. In other words, Lucy has been approved for construction. Woot!

[Credit: SwRI]

The mission is designed to investigate Trojan asteroids, the generic name given to asteroids that share a planet’s orbit, split into two groups. One group orbits 60° ahead of the planet and the other 60° behind; these are the so-called L4 and L5 points, where the forces of the gravity of the planet, the Sun, and their own centrifugal force from orbiting balance. Asteroids collect in these spots, and Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid may very well date to the beginning of the solar system itself. This makes them objects of great interest.

Lucy is designed to be quite mobile, and will travel to both groups (note: They are separated from each other by 800 million km at least), and will also pass by a main belt asteroid on its way out, too ((52246) Donaldjohanson, named after a co-discoverer of the Lucy fossil, and (I assume) why the mission was named this).

That’s very exciting! And with permission from NASA to go ahead construction now begins in earnest. They better hurry: Launch is scheduled for October 2021! But then, Southwest Research Institute is used to these timelines; they built New Horizons, Dawn, and many other smaller missions on rapid timescales. And those missions were amazingly successful.

So yay! Congrats to the Lucy team, and may you see many, many space rocks up close.

* I know, I love the metric system, but a lot of our idioms fall pretty flat when converted.

Give a gift subscription

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[Artwork depicting strontium atoms flying away from the explosive merger of two neutron stars. From Thursday’s post. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser]

Monday 21 October 2019: Super spiral galaxies are huge and bright… and spin *really* rapidly

Tuesday 22 October 2019: How do you calculate the orbit of an object in space?

Wednesday 23 October 2019: eROSITA is now scanning the skies for X-rays

Thursday 24 October 2019: How to make strontium: Collide two neutron stars and stay *way* back

Friday 25 October 2019: India’s Chandrayaan-2 sees boulders and craters on the Moon

Et alia

You can email me at (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!