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The holiday region Saas-Fee/Saastal in the Swiss Canton of Valaishas been described as a ‘high alpine outdoor paradise’. And with plenty of exciting activities available and a whole host of spellbinding viewpoints within easy reach, it’s easy to see why.

Sheltered under the spectacular 4,027m Allalinhorn, you’ll find the charming car-free village of Saas-Fee. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Alps’, Saas-Fee sits on a high mountain plateau at around 1,800m and is surrounded by thirteen impressive 4,000m peaks. These include the Dom, which at 4,545m is the highest summit lying entirely in Switzerland.

In the winter, the Saas Valley becomes a lively ski resort. But in the height of summer, it’s a gateway to some of the most extraordinary high-altitude adventures in the Valais Alps. Here are six of the best to get you started.

1. Gorge Alpine via ferrata

The Gorge Alpine via ferrata course can only be undertaken with a mountain guide and runs along the rugged Fee Gorge that connects the villages of Saas-Fee and Saas-Grund. Via ferrata are routes equipped with fixed ladders, cables, and bridges to help climbers and walkers. And the Gorge Alpine via ferrata takes you alongside a deep gorge carved in the rock by a gushing tributary of the Saaservispa River. It’s the ideal introduction to this thrilling adventure activity.

The first zip line is fairly sedate, whipping you across the canyon in a fairly tranquil fashion. But as you work your way along the route, the zip lines get faster and incorporate more stomach-churning mechanisms like suspension bridges, pulley systems, rope swings, rappelling, and free falling. The course then ends with an unnerving descent into an echoey cave.

2. Jegihorn Trail via ferrata

For those wanting to take the next step up the via ferrata ladder, the Jegihorn Trail is definitely one to try. This route is a more lofty one, taking any would-be alpinists up the highest via ferrata in the Western Alps (3,206m).

Lauded as one of the most beautiful courses in Switzerland, the Jegihorn Trail is a demanding course providing you with an exhilarating blend of climbing and scrambling over steep ladders and exposed aretes. Throughout your adventure, you’ll be accompanied by sensational views of soaring peaks all the way to the Jegihorn summit.

Switzerland’s Saas-Fee is a stunning adventure playground
Mattmark Lake, Monte Moro (c) Saastal Tourismus AG

3. Hike the Golden Madonna Pass (Monte Moro)

The centuries-old traders’ alpine crossing that links Switzerland and Italy is one of the highest passes on the classic Monte Rosa Tour. Lying at the foot of the 2,985m Monte Moro peak, the hike is famous for the golden-gilded statue of Mary that stands over the travellers below. The 4.6-mile hike begins at the Mattmark Dam and can be completed in around five to six hours (both ways).

4. Bag your first 4,000m peak

If you fancy yourself as a bit of an alpinist but aren’t quite ready for the north face of the Eiger, then the 4,027m Allalinhorn is the one for you. Despite its height, the summit is perfectly attainable for anyone in reasonable shape and with an appetite for high-altitude adventure.

The ascent can be completed in a single day if you take the Metro Alpin (the world’s highest funicular) to the Mittelallalin station at 3,500m. From there, you’ll follow the Feejoch route past the world’s highest revolving restaurant and across snowfields, ice streams, and rocky outcrops, before finally scaling a short ladder onto the summit plateau.

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Frontier Adventure

Ingenuity Won’t Fly Again Because It’s Missing a Rotor Blade

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Ingenuity has been the first aerial vehicle on another world. NASA announced the end of the Martian helicopter’s life at the end of its 72nd flight. During the flight there had been a problem on landing and, following the incident a few photos revealed chips in one of the rotor blades but nothing too serious. New images have been revealed that show the craft is missing one of its rotor blades entirely! 

Mars Ingenuity was developed by NASA as a small lightweight drone that made history by becoming the first powered flight on Mars. It was part of the mission that took the Perseverance rover to Mars in February 2021.  Undertaking powered flights in the thin Martian atmosphere it demonstrated that powered flight was possible as it surveyed the surrounding area for items of interest for further exploration. 

Mars Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars
Image of the Mars Ingenuity helicopter (Source : NASA)

The construction was the brainchild of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who oversaw the construction on behalf of the agency. NASA’s Ames Research Centre and Langley Research Center played a significant role in flight performance analysis and technical support.

On board the vehicle was some cutting edge technology that was tailored for the conditions on Mars. First of course, are the rotors, the thin atmosphere on Mars mean larger than usual blades were needed to generate the lift required. It was built with lightweight materials like carbon fibre to make it as efficient as possible, new and efficient solar cells that would drive the autonomous navigation systems. It was equipped with sensors and cameras to enable data collection of the Martian terrain to send back to Perseverance rover and controllers on Earth.

Ingenuity had been flying in a terrain with few rocks – which it uses in some part for navigation – and so had been experiencing difficulties. On 6 Jan it made an emergency landing because it couldn’t accurately identify its location. It happened again on the next flight but this time it seems to have come down at an angle and struck the ground with one of its rotors. Images suggested it had suffered some chips on one of the rotor blades however, recent images reveal the damage is more severe.

On 11 Feb, NASA used the black and white navigation camera to record a video showing the shadow of the rotors turning. It was an ingenious idea by the engineers to try and understand the extent of the damage to the 1.2m blades. To their surprise the footage revealed that one fo the blades, the upper blade seems to be absent! It looks like the blade detected near the mast.

Source : Ingenuity’s Navcam Reveals a Missing Rotor Blade 

The post Ingenuity Won’t Fly Again Because It’s Missing a Rotor Blade appeared first on Universe Today.

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Electrodes in Spacesuits Could Protect Astronauts from Harmful Dust on Mars

apollo 17 dust jpg

To quote NASA associate administrator Jim Reuter, sending crewed missions to Mars by 2040 is an “audacious goal.” The challenges include the distance involved, which can take up to six months to traverse using conventional propulsion methods. Then there’s the hazard posed by radiation, which includes increased exposure to solar particles, flares, and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). And then there’s the time the crews will spend in microgravity during transits, which can take a serious toll on human health, physiology, and psychology.

But what about the challenges of living and working on Mars for several months at a time? While elevated radiation and lower gravity are a concern, so is Martian regolith. Like lunar regolith, dust on Mars will adhere to astronauts’ spacesuits and inflict wear on their equipment. However, it also contains harmful particles that must be removed to prevent contaminating habitats. In a recent study, a team of aerospace engineers tested a new electrostatic system for removing Martian regolith from spacesuits that could potentially remove harmful dust with up to 98% efficiency.

The new system was designed by Benjamin M. Griggs and Lucinda Berthoud, a Master’s engineering student and Professor of Space Systems Engineering (respectively) with the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, UK. The paper that describes the system and the verification process recently appeared in the journal Acta Astronautica. As they explain, the Electrostatic Removal System (ERS) they propose utilizes the phenomenon of dielectrophoresis (DEP) to remove Martian dust from spacesuit fabrics.

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Dust flies from the tires of a moon buggy, driven by Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan. These “rooster-tails” of dust caused problems. Credit: NASA

Much like its lunar counterpart, Martian regolith is expected to be electrostatically charged due to exposure to cosmic radiation. But on Mars, there’s also the contribution made by dust devils and storms, which have been known to generate electrostatic discharges (aka. lightning). During the Apollo missions, astronauts reported how the lunar regolith would adhere to their suits and get tracked back into their Lunar Modules. Once inside, it would similarly stick to everything and get into their eyes and lungs, causing irritation and respiratory problems.

Given their plans to return astronauts to the Moon through the Artemis Program, NASA is investigating several methods to prevent regolith from getting into habitation modules – like coating technology for spacesuits and electron beams for cleaning them. While Martian dust is expected to inflict similar wear on spacesuits, the situation is made worse because it may contain toxic particles. As Griggs explained to Universe Today via email:

“Beyond having an abrasive effect on spacesuits themselves, Martian regolith is also expected to present health issues to astronauts. It is known to contain a range of harmful particles which may be carcinogenic or cause respiratory issues, and data from the Pathfinder mission showed the presence of toxic particles such as chromium. Martian regolith will therefore require removal from spacesuits prior to entry into habitation zones on Mars to prevent contact between astronauts and regolith particles.”

The principle behind the device, dielectrophoresis (DEP), refers to the movement of neutral particles when subjected to a nonuniform electric field. Their proposed Electrostatic Removal System (ERS) comprises two components: a High Voltage Waveform Generator (HVWG) used to produce square waves of varying frequencies and amplitudes up to 1000 volts and an Electrostatic Removal Device (ERD) consisting of an array of parallel copper electrodes. When the square waves are applied across the electrodes in the ERD, a large and varying electric field is generated. As Griggs summarized:

“Therefore, when dust particles are incident on the surface of the ERD, the dust particles are displaced through a combination of electrostatic and dielectrophoretic forces (due to the large electric field), which acts on charged and uncharged particles respectively within the dust. This acts to displace dust particles in a direction perpendicular to the electrodes, resulting in the clearing of the ERD surface.”

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If Exoplanets Have Lightning, it’ll Complicate the Search for Life

TRAPPIST 1d artist impression 2018 jpg

Discovering exoplanets is almost routine now. We’ve found over 5,500 exoplanets, and the next step is to study their atmospheres and look for biosignatures. The James Webb Space Telescope is leading the way in that effort. But in some exoplanet atmospheres, lightning could make the JWST’s job more difficult by obscuring some potential biosignatures while amplifying others.

Detecting biosignatures in the atmospheres of distant planets is fraught with difficulties. They don’t advertise their presence, and the signals we receive from exoplanet atmospheres are complicated. New research adds another complication to the effort. It says that lightning can mask the presence of things like ozone, an indication that complex life could exist on a planet. It can also amplify the presence of compounds like methane, which is considered to be a promising biosignature.

The new research is “The effect of lightning on the atmospheric chemistry of exoplanets and potential biosignatures,” and it’s been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The lead author is Patrick Barth, a researcher from the Space Research Institute at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

While we’ve discovered over 5,500 exoplanets, only 69 of them are in the potentially habitable zones around their stars. They’re rocky planets that receive enough energy from their stars to potentially maintain liquid water on their surfaces. Our search for biosignatures is focused on this small number of planets.

This is an artist's illustration of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1d, a potentially habitable exoplanet about 40 light-years away. Planets like these are prime targets for JWST's spectrometry. Image Credit: By NASA/JPL-Caltech - Cropped from: PIA22093: TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup - Updated Feb. 2018, Public Domain,
This is an artist’s illustration of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1d, a potentially habitable exoplanet about 40 light-years away. Planets like these are prime targets for JWST’s spectrometry. Image Credit: By NASA/JPL-Caltech – Cropped from: PIA22093: TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup – Updated Feb. 2018, Public Domain,

The important next step is to determine if these planets have atmospheres and then what the composition of those atmospheres is. The JWST is our most powerful instrument for these purposes. But in order to understand what the JWST shows us in distant atmospheres, we have to know what its signals tell us. Research like this helps scientists prepare for the JWST’s observations by alerting them to potential false positives and masked biosignatures.

This JWST spectra isn't part of this research, but it shows how the powerful space telescope can examine exoplanet atmospheres. It's a transmission spectrum of the hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-39 b, captured by Webb's Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec.) It reveals the first definitive evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet outside the Solar System. In the future, the JWST will bring its observation power to bear on more exoplanets as part of the search for biosignatures. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI). Science: The JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team
This JWST spectra isn’t part of this research, but it shows how the powerful space telescope can
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