BAN #303: OK, let's try this again, again; Perseverance roves; Night sky victory in Colorado
8 March 2021 Issue #303
|Phil Plait||Mar 9||5||8|
[The planetary nebula M 2-9, winds from a dying star. Credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Legacy Archive / Judy Schmidt]
About this newsletter
OK, a series of errors on my part meant that this issue was originally not sent out correctly, and free subscribers never saw it while paid ones did. I tried to fix it yesterday but that didn’t work! So I nuked it: Deleted the entire thing and resent it from scratch. Hopefully now everyone will receive it!
I have opened comments to everyone for this issue. I know how this sounds, but if you STILL didn’t get it please let me know (yes, this is like a teacher in class saying “If you’re not here raise your hand” but I don’t want y’all to feel obligated to leave a comment if you did receive it). Yikes. From now on I’ll be a LOT more careful about the settings before I publish.
Space is big. That’s why we call it “space”
On March 4, 2021, Perseverance did what it was designed to do: rove.
[Perseverance rover persevering and roving. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]
That image shows the tracks left in the Martian surface by the rover’s wheels as it performed a series of short maneuvers to make sure all is well. It’s really nice to see that!
But there’s more in that image that’s frankly extremely cool. Really, it’s what’s not there.
Look up near the top of the shot. You can see where the tracks start. Literally, no tracks, and then tracks.
Why, it’s as if the rover fell out of the sky and landed at that very spot!
The maneuvers included going forward a few meters, turning, and then reversing into a new spot. Soon it will begin its journey around Jezero crater to look for signs of life. So. Cool.
At that link above is a more thorough discussion about what else the JPL engineers here on Earth did to check out Perseverance. It’s pretty interesting. They also did a live stream of the news:
The landing sites for Mars missions are traditionally given a name, and this one is the Octavia E. Butler Landing, after the renowned science fiction author. Geekwire has some good background on that.
This promises to be a simply amazing mission. This is by far the most sophisticated machine ever dropped on Mars, and the first explicitly designed to look for signs of life, ancient though they may be. I can’t wait to see what it finds.
What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI
[The cometary globule CG12, which is just jaw-droppingly beautiful, so yeah, you wanna read Thursday’s article. Credit: Sebastian Voltmer]
Monday 1 March, 2020: Deep sea bacteria spurn the Sun, instead using Earth's internal heat for photosynthesis
Tuesday 2 March, 2020: The Sun is surrounded by millions of binary stars!
Wednesday 3 March, 2020: Listening for techno-savvy aliens: a search of 31 nearby Sun-like stars
Thursday 4 March, 2020: Turns out, getting slammed by a supernova can make you collapse. If you're a cometary globule.
Friday 5 March, 2020: The red hypergiant VY CMa is bigger than Betelgeuse and belching out vast clouds of dust
A brief synopsis of some interesting astronomy/science news
I recently got an email from Ross Cuniff, an amateur astronomer who also happens to sit on the Ft. Collins (Colorado) City Council and is also currently Mayor Pro-Tem. He and I have chatted before on astronomy topics, and this time he had some interesting and welcome news: Ft. Collins is looking into changing their standard for outdoor lighting to make them more night-sky friendly.
An ordinance has been submitted for review that would change the lighting requirements for new commercial and multi-family buildings. They would ensure adequate lighting for safety and commerce, of course, and also make sure everything is up to current industry standards, but it also specifically points out light pollution as an issue that needs to be considered, too.
Wasted light from streetlights, buildings, parking lots, and more tends to get sent upward (either due to bad shielding around the light or reflection off the ground). This lights up haze and other particles in our air, causing the sky to glow. That in turn washes out the sky, making it harder to see the stars. This is an obvious and serious issue for astronomers.
[An image I shot with my phone camera of Orion (left) and Taurus (right). Even though I’m technically in a rural area I have mildly light-polluted skies, coming from several towns and cities around me… including Ft. Collins to my north.]
It has other ramifications as well. It can affect people’s sleeping habits, and has a profound and negative impact on wildlife. The good news is that in general investing in better lighting for new construction is cheaper in the long run. New fixtures tend to be more efficient, and if you’re not wasting half your light by throwing it upward you can use lower power bulbs, too. That saves energy and money.
I’ve written about light pollution in the newsletter a few times (like here and here) and on the blog many, many times. It’s been a topic of interest of mine for a long time; I grew up next to two streetlights that seemed to be strategically placed to always be near objects I wanted to see with my telescope. I spent a lot of time hauling that ridiculously heavy ‘scope up and down my block to try to get a tree or something in between me, the streetlight, and the galaxy I was looking for.
Ft. Collins is a big town to my north with over 300,000 people in it, and I can see the glow from it on my horizon. Knowing that this ordinance is being investigated (and has already been given the thumbs-up by the City Planner and Planning Manager) is very hopeful. If a city that size can do it, then I can hope other, bigger towns will consider it as well.
Oh and hey, as an addendum, take a look at this. Dark Sky Sites are growing all over the US, and this one is just a few hours south of me in Colorado. I may have to visit it sometime when I can.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!