Japan’s space agency (JAXA) is gearing up for its Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, with plans to have a sample from Mars’ moon Phobos return to Earth by 2029. Mission scientists say they hope to find clues to the origins of Mars two moons, as well as Mars itself, and possibly even traces of past life.
“We think that the Martian moon, Phobos, is loaded with material lifted from Mars during meteorite impacts,” the MMX team said on Twitter. “By collecting this Phobos sample, MMX will help investigate traces of Martian life and the new era of Martian habitability exploration in the 2020s will begin.”
MMX currently has a planned launch in 2024, with the spacecraft reaching the Mars system by 2025, approximately one year after leaving Earth. Current plans for the mission include an orbiter, a lander that touches down on Phobos with sample collection and return capability, and perhaps even a rover.
A newly released overview of the MMX mission. Credit: JAXA
The orbiter will be placed in a so-called Quasi Satellite Orbit (QSO) around Phobos, to collect scientific data. After both orbital and in situ observations, and sample collection, the lander spacecraft will liftoff to return to Earth carrying the sample of material gathered from Phobos. Current plans are for the lander to collect 10 grams (0.35 ounce) of soil. In a news briefing this week, and reported by the Associated Press, JAXA scientists said that perhaps about 0.1% of the surface soil on Phobos came from Mars, and 10 grams could contain about 30 granules, depending on the consistency of the soil.
The team says their exploration of the Martian moons will help improve technology for future planet and satellite exploration. They say their mission will aid in advancements, for example, in the technology required to make round-trips between the Earth and Mars, enhanced sampling techniques and optimal communication technology using the Deep Space Network ground stations.
The objectives of the MMX mission are:
To investigate whether the Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, are captured asteroids or fragments that coalesced after a giant impact with Mars, and to acquire new knowledge on the formation process of Mars and the terrestrial planets.To clarify the mechanisms controlling the surface evolution of the Martian moons and Mars, and to gain new insights into the history of the Mars Sphere, including that of the Martian moons.
Infographic on MMX. Credit: JAXA & NASA.
Sending a mission to moons of Mars has long been on the wish list for mission planners and space enthusiasts, and for the past few years, JAXA engineers and scientists have been working on putting such a mission together.
Many scientists say that studying and landing on the moons of Mars would be the next best thing to going to Mars itself. Phobos and Deimos have been considered as places for a possible human base that would allow for easier access to Mars than going to the Red Planet directly, especially for the first human missions to the Mars system.
“Humans can realistically explore the surfaces of only a few objects and Phobos and Deimos are on that list,” NASA Chief Scientist, Jim Green said in 2020. “Their position orbiting about Mars may make them a prime target for humans to visit first before reaching the surface of the Red Planet, but that will only be possible after the results of the MMX mission have been completed.”
Artist’s concept of the MMX spacecraft in orbital configuration, with its scientific instruments indicated. Credit: JAXA/ISAS
The mission will have international input, equipped with eleven
Day Has Returned, but India’s Lander and Rover have Failed to Wake Up
It looks like India’s Chandrayaan-3 succumbed to the cold, and its mission is over. The frigid lunar night lasted about two weeks, and a new day has dawned. With that day came hopes of a sunlit revival for the lander and the rover, but the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) says the chances of the spacecraft awakening in the Sun are diminishing by the hour.
The lunar night that wrapped its cold arms around the lander and rover lasted 14 days, and so will the current lunar day. When the day dawned last Friday, ISRO began trying to communicate with the lander. There’s been no response so far, as both explorers may be forever entombed about 600km (373 mi) from the Moon’s south pole.
Even though things don’t look good for the mission, it’s still a success. It’s the first spacecraft to land in the Moon’s south pole region. The area is critical because it contains vast quantities of frozen water in its permanently shadowed crater. That water is a valuable resource for astronauts who’ll visit the Moon in the future and set up bases. It’s also the first time ISRO successfully landed a rover and lander on the Moon after its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2, crashed into the surface.
But it’s encouraging that Vikram and Pragyaan are still intact. ISRO hoped that the Sun would bring both back to life after the agency put them into sleep mode as night fell. There’s a chance that the sunlight would recharge the batteries.
“Once there is sufficient solar generation, they are expected to come back to life provided that they have survived the night.”
M Srikanth, Chandrayaan-3 Mission Operations Director.
ISRO released an update on Friday, the beginning of the new lunar day. Unfortunately, there was no response from either the lander or the rover.
Efforts have been made to establish communication with the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover to ascertain their wake-up condition.
As of now, no signals have been received from them.
Efforts to establish contact will continue.
— ISRO (@isro) September 22, 2023
When night falls on the Moon’s south pole, temperatures plummet as low as -200C to -250C (-328F to -418F.) The lander and rover were never designed to handle these temperatures. The rover has only a small battery—10 amp-hours—that provides the necessary power to deploy its solar array. It was also included to help the rover survive a periodic eclipse. The small battery was fully charged when night came, and the solar panels were positioned to receive incoming starlight when morning came. The Vikram lander was also ready for the morning, and its 62.5 amp hour was fully charged.
Both vehicles are pre-programmed to come back to life as the Sun reappears. “When sunlight comes back, there’s an autonomous logic pre-loaded on both the lander and rover,” said M Srikanth, Chandrayaan-3 Mission Operations Director, in an interview with the Times of India. “Once there is sufficient solar generation, they are expected to come back to life provided that they have survived the night.”
If ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 mission is truly over, it was still a success. It was the first spacecraft to land at the Moon’s south pole region. Image Credit: ISRO
But according to Isro chief AS Kiran Kumar, the “chances of reawakening are dimming with each passing hour.” In an interview with the BBC, Kumar added, “The lander and rover have so many components which may not have survived the frigid temperatures on the Moon.” In fairness, they were never designed to.
It’s all up to the lander’s transmitter now. It’s ISRO’s link with the mission, and if it won’t function, it won’t matter if some of the spacecraft’s other systems are somehow still working. “It has to tell us that it’s alive. Even if all other sub-systems work, we have no way of knowing that,” Kumar added.
Some of ISRO’s hopefulness is based on China’s successful Chang’e 4 mission. It landed on the lunar far side and was plunged into darkness and freezing temperatures, too. It woke up with the sunrise more than once.
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Review: Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody
Hooded Fleece Jacket
Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody
$179, 12.5 oz./354g (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XXS-XL, kids XS-XXL
As I’ve repeatedly written at this blog, virtually no piece of outdoor apparel offers more versatility than a highly breathable, midweight insulation layer; arguably, the only “layer” you will wear more is your skin. Find a highly breathable midweight jacket that’s soft and fits like it was custom made for your torso and you have a winner. Patagonia’s R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody could play that role for almost any outdoor user, from hard-core backpackers, climbers, and backcountry skiers to the average dayhiker and fitness walker, as I found wearing it on backpacking trips in Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies, not to mention countless days around town and at home.
At 12.5 ounces/354 grams (men’s medium), this midweight fleece is designed for wearing as an outer or middle layer in a huge range of cool to cold temperatures, including activities and seasons as diverse as hiking or climbing in virtually any mountains in any month of the year, southern climes from fall through spring, or for any winter activity—skiing, hiking, running, walking, you pick.
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.
The Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody.
” data-image-caption=”The Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”The Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody.” class=”wp-image-60252″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?resize=150%2C100&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Patagonia-R1-Air-Full-Zip-Hoody.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />The Patagonia R1 Air Full-Zip Hoody.
It kept me warm without overheating—rarely even breaking a sweat—wearing it over one base layer while hiking with a full pack, uphill and downhill, on cool, generally calm mornings and some windy afternoons during a weeklong, nearly 70-mile September backpacking trip in Glacier National Park, and hiking in chilly, very strong wind on three-day hikes on both the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park and the Nigel, Cataract, and Cline Passes Route in the White Goat Wilderness of the Canadian Rockies in the first week of August.
On those backpacking trips, I also wore it in camp both as an outer layer and, when temps dropped, under a down jacket—meaning the R1 Air Hoody doubled as an on-trail layer and a camp layer that allowed me to bring a lighter puffy and forego a midweight, long-sleeve shirt. To frame it another way: The R1 Air Hoody cut my layering system weight by replacing or reducing two other layers. Few pieces of apparel offer more versatility while reducing your pack weight.
I also wore it on breezy, cool evenings in the 50s between waves of thunderstorms
Did you miss our previous article…
Gaia is Now Finding Planets. Could it Find Another Earth?
The ESA launched Gaia in 2013 with one overarching goal: to map more than one billion stars in the Milky Way. Its vast collection of data is frequently used in published research. Gaia is an ambitious mission, though it seldom makes headlines on its own.
But that could change.
Gaia relies on astrometry for much of its work, and astrometry is the measurement of the position, distance, and motions of stars. It’s so sensitive that it can sometimes detect the slight wobble a planet imparts to its much more massive star. Gaia detected its first two transiting exoplanets in 2021, and it’s expected to find thousands of Jupiter-size exoplanets beyond our Solar System.
But new research takes it even further. It shows that Gaia should be able to detect Earth-like planets up to 30 light-years away.
The new paper is “The Possibility of Detecting our Solar System Through Astrometry,” and is available on the pre-press site arxiv.org. It has a single author: Dong-Hong Wu from the Department of Physics, Anhui Normal University, Wuhu, Anhui, China.
Astronomers find most exoplanets with the transit method. A spacecraft like TESS monitors a section of the sky and looks at many stars at once. When a planet passes between us and one of the stars, it’s called a transit. It creates a dip in starlight that TESS’s sensitive instruments can detect. When TESS detects multiple, predictable dips, it signifies a planet.
But that’s not the only way to detect them. Astrometry can do it too, and that’s Gaia’s way.
Astrometry has an advantage over other methods. Gaia can more accurately determine an exoplanet’s orbital parameters. This doesn’t mean the other methods aren’t valuable. They obviously are. But as the paper’s author explains, “Neither the transit nor radial velocity method provides complete physical parameters of one planet, and both methods prefer to detect planets close to the central star. On the contrary, the astrometry method can provide a three-dimensional characterization of the orbit of one planet and has the advantage of detecting planets far away from the host star.” Astrometry’s advantages are clear.
If other technological planetary civs exist—and that’s a big if—then it’s not outrageous to think they have technology similar to Gaia’s. While Gaia is impressive, there are improvements on the horizon that will make astrometry even more precise. The author asks a question in his paper: If ETIs (ExtraTerrestrial Intelligences) are using advanced astrometry equal to or even surpassing Gaia’s, “…which of them could discover the planets in the solar system, even the Earth?”
Astrometrical precision is calculated in microarcseconds, and precision decreases with distance. The ESA says that Gaia can measure a star’s position within 24 microarcseconds for objects 4000 times fainter than the naked eye. That’s like measuring the thickness of a human hair from 1000 km away. But that’s not precise enough for Wu’s scenario. His work is based on even more advanced astrometry, the type we’ll likely have in the near future. “If the astrometry precision is equal to or better than ten microarcseconds, all 8,707 stars located within 30 pcs of our solar system possess the potential to detect the four giant planets within 100 years.”
This is the heart of Wu’s paper. The 30-parsec (approx. 100 light-years) region contains almost 9,000 stars, and if an ETI from one of those stars has powerful enough astrometry, then it could detect Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The only drawback is they’d have to observe our Solar System for nearly a century to make sure the signal was clear.
1,” the author writes. Image Credit: Wu 2023.” class=”wp-image-163369″ srcset=”https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Giant-Planet-Detection.png 492w, https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Giant-Planet-Detection-374×580.png 374w, https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Giant-Planet-Detection-161×250.png 161w” sizes=”(max-width: 492px) 100vw, 492px” />
This figure from the research shows how long it would take for an ETI with advanced astrometry to detect our Solar System’s four giant planets. “We find that all the four giants in our solar system could be detected and well-characterized as long as they are observed for at least 90 years with SNR > 1,” the author writes. Image Credit: Wu 2023.
There are 8707 stars within 100
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