SpaceTime Series 25 Episode 59
*The Sun as you've never seen it before
Powerful flares, breathtaking views across the solar poles, and a curious solar "hedgehog" are among the treasure-trove of spectacular images and data returned by the European...
The Astronomy, Space, Technology & Science News Podcast.
Stuart: This is Spacetime series 25, episode 59, full broadcast on the 1 June 2022. Coming up on Space time, the sun as you've never seen it before. The end is near for NASA's Mars stars inside lander, and the mysterious origins of the dwarf planet series. All that and more coming up. I'm Spacetime welcome to Spacetime with Stewart Gary.
Speaker B: Mhm.
Speaker A: Powerful flares, breathtaking views across the solar poles, and a curious solar Hedgehog are among the treasure trove of spectacular images and data now being returned to scientists by the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter spacecraft following its first close approach to the sun. Although the analysis of this new data set has only just started, it's already clear that this mission is providing the most extraordinary insights into the Sun's magnetic behavior and the way they shape space weather. As we were reported at the time, Solar Orbit's closest approach to the sun and its perihelion took place two months ago. On March 26, the spacecraft was inside the orbit of Mercury, about one third of the distance from the sun that the Earth is, and its heat shield reached temperatures of over 500 degrees Celsius. Solar Orbiter carries ten science instruments, all working together in close collaboration to provide unprecedented insights into how our local star works. Some are remote sensing instruments that look at the sun, while others are in situ instruments that monitor the conditions around the spacecraft itself, enabling scientists to join the dots from what they see happening at the sun to what Solar Orbiter feels at its location in the solar wind millions of kilometers away. When it comes to perihelion, clearly, the closer a spacecraft can get to the sun, the finer the details the remote sensing instruments can see. And as the lucky would have it, a spacecraft also soaked up several solar flares and even an Earthdirected coronal mass ejection, thereby providing a taste of real time space weather forecasting and endeavor. It's becoming increasingly important because of the threat space weather poses to technology and astronauts. These space weather events can damage riven destroy spacecraft by shortcircuiting uh their delicate electronics. They puff up and expand the Earth's atmosphere, causing increased atmospheric drag, which can cause orbital decay or shorten the spacecraft's life as it needs to use more fuel to remain in operational orbit. Space weather also affects navigation and communication systems and has caused power blackouts on the ground. The radiation produced by space weather events can also affect the health and safety of astronauts. So the more we know about space, whether or when to expect an event, the better it is. Solar Orbiter's Extreme Ultraviolet Image Instrument principal investigator David Bergsman from the Royal Observatory in Belgium says the new high resolution images of the lower layers of the Sun's atmosphere solar Corona are absolutely breathtaking. This is the region where most of the solar activity which drives space weather takes place. One especially eye catching features be nicknamed the Hedgehog. It stretches from 25. 0 km across the sun, and it's vodable spikes of hot and cold gas which reaches out in all directions. Solar Orbiter's main science goal is to explore the connection between the sun and its heliosphere, the Sun's solar wind of charged particles, which blankets our entire solar system in an atmospheric bubble. It's the movement of these particles and their associated solar magnetic fields, which create space. Whether uh studying the Sun's effect on the heliosphere and the solar magnetic field as it leaves the Sun's visible surface, the photosphere is a complex task, as the magnetic environment around the sun is extremely complicated. But the closer a spacecraft can get to the sun, the less complicated it is to trace particle events back to the surface along the magnetic field lines. A few days before perihelion, a cloud of energetic particles sweeping across solar Orbiter was detected by the spacecraft's Energetic Particle Detector. Tellingly, the most energetic particles arrived first, followed by those progressively lower and lower energy levels. Now, what this suggests is that these particles weren't being produced close to the spacecraft, but were being produced in the solar atmosphere near the Sun's surface. And while crossing space, the faster, more energetic particles moved ahead of the slower, less energetic ones. On the same day, another instrument, the Radio and Plasma Waves Experiment, saw these particles coming, picking up the strong characteristic sweep of radio frequencies produced when accelerated particles, mostly electrons, Spar outwards along the Sun's magnetic field lines. The instrument detected isolations known as Langmuir waves, assigned that the energetic electrons had arrived at the spacecraft. Meanwhile, Solar Orbiter's Extreme Ultraviolet Imager and its X ray Spectrometer Telescope saw events on the sun, which could have been responsible for the release of the particles. Now, while the particles that stream outwards into space are the ones the Energetic Particle Detector and Radio and Plasma Wave Experiment detected, it's important to remember that other particles uh can travel downwards from the event, striking the lower levels of the Sun's atmosphere, and this is where the X ray spectrum of the telescope comes in. While the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager sees the ultraviolet light released from the side of the solar flare in the Sun's atmosphere, the X ray Spectrometer Telescope sees the X rays that are produced when electrons accelerated by the flare interacts with atomic nuclei at lower levels in the Sun's atmosphere. There's some indication from the composition of the particles detected by the Energetic Particle Detector that they're being uh accelerated by a coronal shock in a more gradual event rather than impossibly by the flare, and that suggests multiple acceleration sites. But adding another twist to the situation was the fact that the magnetometer instrument failed to register any substantial event at the time. However, that's not necessarily unusual. The initial eruption of particles, known as coronal mass ejection carries a strong magnetic field, which the magnetometer can pick up. If the coronal mass ejection misses the spacecraft traveling in a different direction, the magnetometer simply won't see it. When it comes to the magnetic field, it all begins at the Sun's visible surface photosphere. This is where the internally generated magnetic fields first burst onto the surface to know what this looks like. Solar Orbiter carries a polarometric and heliosasmic image, which can see north and south magnetic polarity on the photosphere, as well as the rippling of the Sun's surface due to seismic waves traveling through its interior. This field then expands as it goes into the Corona and drives all the action up there. Another instrument, the spectral imaging of the Corona environment, records the composition of the Corona, which can then be uh compared to the contents of the solar wind seen by the Solar Wind Analyzer. Another instrument, the spectral imaging of the coronal environment, records the composition of the Corona, which can then be compared to the contents of the solar wind as seen by the Solar Wind Analyzer. This tracks the evolution of the composition of the solar wind from the sun to the spacecraft. And that tells scientists uh a little bit about the mechanisms responsible for acceleration of the solar wind. So by combining data from all these instruments, the science team were able to tell the story of solar activity from the surface of the sun all the way out to the solar orbit of spacecraft and beyond. And it's that knowledge which will help pave the way for future systems which will be able to forecast space weather conditions on Earth in real time. This is spacetime still to come, the end is getting nearer for NASA's Mars Insight Lander and the uh mysterious origins of the dwarf planet series. All that and more still to come.
Speaker UNK: Mhm.
Speaker A: Dropping power levels are likely to bring it into NASA's Mars Insight Lander mission before the end of this year. Mission managers say dust on the solar panels, combined with darker skies over the Red Planet, are diminishing power levels and forcing scientists to turn off Ferrous instruments not in immediate use. Despite power conservation attempts, it's now expected that Insight will be inoperative by December, including a mission uh which is thus far detected more than 1300 Marsquakes, most recently a magnitude five, which occurred on May 4 and located in a quake prone region of the Red Planet. The information gathered through these Marsquakes has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of the Martian crust, metal and core. Interestingly, uh scientists also found that the occurrence of Marsquakes appears to be seasonal in nature, but they have no idea uh why. Having now recorded data for two Mars years, that's four Earth years. They know the data is not just a fluke because they can see the same pattern repeating with more quakes at specific times of the year. But as to why the quakes occur in this way remains one of the Red Planet's biggest mysteries. Scientists also noticed that there are fluctuations in the martial magnetic field that can be minutes long or even shorter. Some look like little waves in the magnetic field, but researchers have no idea why they're happening. Is there also a seasonal dependence on their occurrence, or are they all resulting from the same course as the Marsquakes? Insights also recorded invaluable weather data, and it studied remnants of Mars ancient magnetic field. The director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, Laurie Glaze, says insiders Transition Science's understanding of the interiors of Rocky planets and set the stage for future missions. Researchers can apply what they've learned about the Red Planet's internal structure to the Earth, to the Moon, to Venus, and even to Rocky planets in other solar systems. Insight landed on Mars back on November 26, 2018. The spacecraft is equipped with a pair of 2.2 meters diameter solar panels, which unfilled fanlike upon landing. Insight science team investigator Katherine Johnson says the probe was the first mission to study in depth inside of Mars, its crust, mantle, and core. It made measurements of ground movement, providing seismic data as well as local temperature, wind, air pressure, uh and even magnetic field changes. Johnson and colleagues learned how strongly magnetized the rocks beneath the landing site are, and that there are time variations in the planet's magnetic field, probably related to magnetic fields generated by electric currents in the atmosphere or above by solar winds. They also found that just like Earth, there are also variations of the magnetic field between day and night. Insight also measured the planet's rotation with far greater accuracy than previous spacecraft. Unlike many other Martian probes, Insights been a stationary lander because the seismometer uh needs to remain in one place in order to measure very tiny ground motions resulting from massquakes. The lander was designed to accomplish the mission's primary science goals in its first Mars year, equivalent to nearly two Earth years. Having achieved its primary objectives, the spacecraft then transitioned into an extended mission. However, its solar panels have been producing less and less power as they continue uh to accumulate more and more dust. Now, because of the reduced power, mission managers have now placed the lander's robotic arm into its final resting place, known as its retirement pose. Uh originally designed to deploy the lander's seismometer and heat probe, the arms played an unexpected role in this mission, as well as using it as a hammer to try unsuccessfully to bury the heat probe into the sticky Martian soil. Mission managers also used it as an innovative way to remove dust from the solar panels. As a result, the seismometer was able to operate far more often than what it would have otherwise, thereby leading to new discoveries. When Insight landed, the solar panels produced around 5000 Watt hours each Martian day or so. That's enough to power an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes, but now they're only producing about 500 Watt hours per sole. That's only enough to power the same oven for roughly ten minutes. Now, adding to the problem are seasonal changes, which are starting to take place in the skies above the Elysium planetary landing site. You see, over the next few months, there'll be more and more dust in the air that will reduce sunlight and therefore the amount of energy the lander receives. While past efforts have removed some dust from the panels, the mission would need far more powerful dust cleaning events, such as passing whirlwinds or dust Devils, to reverse the current trend. Of course, similar winds have helped solar panels on both the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers, keeping them operational for years longer than expected. But if just 25% of Insights panels were swept clean by the winds, lander would gain about 1000 Watt hours per seal, enough to continue collecting signs. However, at the current rate of power, Depletion Insights non seismic instruments will now need to be left off. Energy is now being prioritized to the lander's seismometer, which will operate at select times of the uh day, such as at night when the winds are low, and so Marsquakes are easy for the size moderator to hear. At the current rate of power loss, the seismometer itself is expected to be offline before the end of August, and that will effectively conclude uh the science phase of the mission. At that point, Insight will still have enough power to operate, taking occasional images and communicating with Earth, but the team expects that around December power will get solo that one day it will simply stop responding and the mission will be over. This report uh from NASA TV Insight.
Speaker B: Has been fantastically successful. We've gotten more science than we had ever dreamed that we would get. During the course of this mission, Insight's primary goal was to better understand how the terrestrial planets, the Rocky uh planets, formed and evolved.
Speaker C: First, we landed an incredibly sensitive seismometer on the surface of Mars, and with that, we are able to record over 1300 Marsquakes.
Speaker B: And these range all the way from tiny little tumblers that just barely go over the noise background to a handful of quakes that were larger than magnitude four.
Speaker E: And feeling those vibrations, the scientists can actually take that information and use that to reconstruct all the material that those Marsquakes traveled through and thereby see the interior of the planet.
Speaker C: We looked at its core, which uh is big and not very dense. We looked at its mantle, which is not so hot, and we looked at its crust, which is not too thick and not uh too dense compared to some of our premission expectations.
Speaker B: By measuring the detailed structure of the inside of Mars, it gives us a snapshot of what the planet looked like uh four and a half billion years ago. The other thing that we've been able to do is make a very detailed record of the weather at Mars. So we have a really good weather station, which has allowed meteorologists to study the weather at the inside landing site and relate that to the climate changes on Mars.
Speaker C: What we didn't do, unfortunately, was make the heat flow measurement. We wanted to make our heat flow probe was supposed to get three to 5 meters down and we were unable to reach that depth.
Speaker E: But we were able to get some of those measurements, such as the heat transfer amongst the soil.
Speaker B: Insight is a solar powered mission. We have uh solar panels and they were designed to give us enough power to easily get through the first two years.
Speaker E: But there's a lot of dust in Mars atmosphere and that's falling down on top of our solar arrays and slowly.
Speaker B: Blocking the sun as the panels are getting dustier. We started racking our brains whether there's anything we can do to try to clean up those panels ourselves.
Speaker F: When the idea of using dirt to clean the solar arrays first proposed, it seems counterintuitive.
Speaker E: We're actually able to use the arm and the scoop to scoop up some soil from the ground and dump it over the lander, having some of that heavier sand blow onto the arrays and knock some of the dust up. So he essentially used it as an array cleaning tool.
Speaker F: Cleaning with dirt actually worked.
Speaker B: It allowed us to actually keep the instruments going during the low power season where the Mars is farthest from the sun during the winter. Unfortunately, later in the summer, we think that the power is going to be dropping so quickly due to the atmosphere getting dustier. Due to the alignment of Mars and the sun.
Speaker F: We're going to be at a point where we can no longer have all of our instruments on, which means we'll be turning off the Seismometer and other instruments on board.
Speaker E: The last day is going to be better. Sweet. Obviously, we're preparing for it. We know it's coming. But that first moment where we don't hear from the lander when we expect to, that's going to be tough.
Speaker C: It's left a permanent Mark on me. I literally tattooed Insight onto my arm. I'll never let it go.
Speaker B: We've really rewritten sort of the chapter of the encyclopedia on the interior of Mars. That was our last big hole in our understanding of the planet.
Speaker C: There's a lot of data that people are going to be looking at for decades to come.
Speaker E: We accomplished so many of our science goals and we're going to have something to look back on and be proud.
Speaker A: And in that report from NASA TV, we heard from Insight principal investigator Bruce Bennett, Insight project scientist Mark Penning, Insight Science and Instrument Operations lead Elizabeth Barrett, and Insight deputy project manager Katia uh Zamorigarcia. This is spacetime. Still to come, the mysterious origins of the dwarf planet series. And later in the Science report, a disturbing new study shows that more than one in ten people may be conscious during general anesthesia. All that and more still to come on space time.
Speaker UNK: Um.
Speaker A: A new study claims the largest main belt asteroid, the dwarf planet Ceres, was likely formed in the coldest part of the solar system before being flung into its current orbit between Mars and Jupiter. The findings are reported in the Journal echoes are based on observations showing that series composition is significantly different from other main belt asteroids, suggesting a different origin by main belt asteroid standards. Cerius is a monster. It has a diameter of almost 1000 km, contains a full third of the asteroid Belt's total mass. Its orbit around the sun is almost perfectly circular, with a zero nine eccentricity and an inclination of nine point 73 degrees to the plane of the solar system, much greater than Earth, which is 157 degrees. Ceres is too little mass to retain an atmosphere by gravitational attraction, but sunlight does evaporate the ammonia and water ice from below the surface, forming a sort of excess fee mist which dissipates into outer space. Ice deposits shine brightly at the bottom of its deeper craters, and the possibility of primitive lifeforms on series has not been ruled out. The craters were mapped by NASA's dawn mission, which orbited both Vesta, the second largest body in the asteroid belt, as well as series. The dwarf planet's core is probably made up of iron and silicates, but what differentiates it from nearby objects is its mantle of ammonia and water ice. Most bodies in the asteroid built do not have ammonia, so the hypothesis is that Ceres must deform further out in the cold regions beyond Jupiter's current orbit and then was somehow thrust into the middle of the asteroid built by the huge gravitational instability caused by the formation of the gas Giants Jupiter and Saturn. The study's lead author, Rafael Ribeiro de Souza from Sao Paulo State University, says uh the presence of ammonia ice provides strong observational evidence that cereals may have been formed in the coldest regions of the solar system well beyond the snowline, in temperatures low enough to cause condensation and fusion of water and volatile substances such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. Today, the snow line is located within the main asteroid belt near the orbit of Jupiter. But when the solar system was being formed 4.6 billion years ago, the position of the zone varied according to the evolution of the periplanetary gas disk and the formation of the giant planets. The intense gravitational disturbance produced by the growth of these gas Giants may well have changed the density, pressure, and temperature of the protoplanetary disk displacing the snow line, and this disturbance in the protoplanetary gas disk may have slowed the orbital speed of the growing planet Jupiter and Saturn, causing them to migrate closer towards the sun, now under the Socalled Grand attack theory. After they clear this gas, Jupiter and Saturn then began to migrate back out again to their current orbital positions. The study's authors suggest that series must have begun forming in an orbit well beyond Saturn, where ammonia was abundant but was then gravitationally perturbed into its current orbit by the outward uh migration of the gas Giants. To test this hypothesis, Ribera de Souza and colleagues ran a large number of computer simulations of gas giant formation inside the protoplanetary gas disc that surrounded the early sun. In their model, the disk contained Jupiter, Saturn embryonic planets, which were the precursors of the ice Giants Uranus and Neptune, and a collection of planetesimals similar in Cerius to size and chemical composition. The assumption was that Cerius was one of a class of bodies thought to have been the building blocks of planets, asteroids, and Comets. The simulation showed that the gas giant planet's formation stage was highly turbulent, with huge collisions between the precursors of Urius and Neptune, the ejection of planets out of the solar system, and even invasion of the inner solar system region by planets with masses greater than three times that of the Earth's mass, and these strong gravitational disturbances would have scattered objects similar to stares everywhere. Some may well have reached the region of the asteroid belt and acquired stable orbits. Rivera de Souza says three main mechanisms acted on these objects in the region the action of gas, which smooth their orbital eccentricities and inclinations residences with Jupiter, protecting them against ejections and collisions caused uh by that giant planet, and closing cards with other embryonic planets, scattering Planetes to more stable inner regions of the asteroid belt. The author's simulation suggests there were at least 3600 serieslike objects beyond Saturn's orbit. The findings matched previous works by other groups based on craters and on the estimated populations of the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, where Pluto and other dwarf planets still reside. This is Spacetime and time now to take another brief look at some of the other stories making news in Science this week with a Science report. A new study has disturbingly found that more than one in ten people may be conscious during Journal anesthesia. Scientists from the University of Sydney were able to show that some 11% of patients were able to respond to commands in what's known as a state of connected consciousness. This occurs when people under general anesthetic are able to respond to outside stimuli such as pain, but may not be able to recall the event afterwards. The findings, reported in the British Journal of Anesthesia, examined some 338 patients aged between 18 and 40 who were under Journal of Anesthesia in hospitals across Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany and Israel. The researchers found that nearly half of those who responded to commands while under also responded to confirm they had pain. Previous studies showed that connected consciousness was occurring in at least 5% of general anesthetics, but researchers were concerned that it was actually happening more frequently, more often uh in young people, and was three times more common in females. A new study has shown that at least half of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Wuhan still have at least one lingering symptom two years later. The findings reported in the Lancet medical Journal Obesity Research, which examined the health outcomes of some two and a half thousand people 24 months after infection, the authors found at least 55% of patients reported still experiencing at least one covert symptom, and the patients were still generally in poorer health than the general population. Fatigue and sleep difficulties were common lingering symptoms, with patients more likely to have mental health problems and a higher use of healthcare services than the general population. Over 6.3 million people have now been killed by the COVID-19 coronavirus since it first appeared in the area surrounding China's Wuhan Institute of Neurology back in September 2019. However, the World Health Organization says the true death toll is likely to be around 15 million, with well over half a billion confirmed cases globally. Paleontologists have discovered the fossilized remains of a new species of dinosaur in Japan. The find, published in the Journal of Scientific Reports, dates back to the Upper Cretaceous from 72 million years ago and was unearthed on the Northern Japanese Island of Hakkaido. Named Paralitharizinosaurus, Japanicus, the specimen consists of a partial cervical vertebra and parts of the right hand. It belongs to a group of mostly herbivorous theropods known as therazinosaurus'well forget about cloaking technology on Klingon birds of Prey, or Harry Potter's. Invisibility cloak, engineers have developed a real life invisibility shield. Previously, scientists have used metamaterials, which involve complex nanofabrications to cause photons to flow along the surface rather than reflect off it. But this new system uses an optical phenomenon known as lenticular lensing. This uses a series of thin, cylinder shaped lenses arranged in parallel on the surface with the details. We're joined by technology editor Alexaarovroyd from ity.com.
Speaker G: It's called a real working invisibility shield, and it is bending um the light so that what you see behind the shield is not the person standing there. But I've got, for example, the shield that's in front of the ocean, and you can see the ocean behind it.
Speaker D: Basically, you see the ocean, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this.
Speaker A: Dude'S head pops up.
Speaker D: Then you realize that it's actually he's standing behind the shield, and the shield is reflecting the light that's coming into it in such a way that something standing directly behind it becomes invisible to anyone on the other side of the shield.
Speaker G: Yeah. The description here is that each shield uses a precision engineered lens array to direct much of the light reflected from the subject away from the observer, sending it sideways across the face of the shield to the left and right. And because the lenses in this array are vertically oriented, the vertically oriented strip of light reflected by the standing or crouching subject quickly becomes very diffuse when spread out horizontally on passing through the back of the ship. And it looks like magic. I mean, I remember the Harry Potter scene is magic. Well, I played back the Harry Potter scene from one of the original movies where he put the invisibility cloak on. And it's fascinating to think. I mean, that, of course, was a cloak that could wrap around your body. This is a piece of plastic effectively that you cannot wear as a cap as yet, but this is the first time I've seen uh such technology. The last time I saw something similar was in the movie Tomorrow Never Dies with James Bond where he's driving the invisible car that he got from John Cleese who is playing the success of the Queue. And this was using kind of a similar kind of concept except that was science fiction and this is real.
Speaker D: You could have your cell phone sitting on your desk at school and the.
Speaker A: Teacher will never know.
Speaker G: Well, yes, the users will no doubt come thick and fast and I can't wait to see this being used in movies and TV shows and no longer will they need CGI. They just have some real hardware to.
Speaker A: Do the job for that's Alexaharavroit from ity.com.
Speaker D: And that's the show for now. Space Time is available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Apple Podcasts, itunes, Stitcher.
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Speaker D: Amazon Music Bytes.com, SoundCloud, YouTube, your favorite podcast download provider and from Spacetime with Stewart Gary.com. Spacetime is also broadcast through the National Science Foundation um on science owned radio and on both iHeartRadio and Tune in Radio. And you can help to support our show by visiting the Spacetime Store for a range of promotional merchandising goodies or by becoming a Spacetime patron, which gives you access to triple episode commercial free versions of the show as well as lots of bonus audio content which doesn't.
Speaker A: Go to air, access to our exclusive.
Speaker D: Facebook group and other rewards. Just go to Spacetime with Stuartgary.com for full details and if you want more Space time, please um check out our blog where you'll find all the stuff we couldn't fit in the show as well as heaps of images, news stories, loads, videos and things on the web I find interesting or amusing. Just go to Spacetime with Stuartgarry Tumblr.com. That's all one word and that's Tumblr without the e. You can also follow us through at Stuartgarry on Twitter, at FaceTime with Stuartgarry on Instagram, through our Spacetime YouTube channel and on Facebook. Just go to Facebook.com Spacetime with Stuartgarry and Space um Time is brought to you in collaboration with Australian Sky Telescope magazine. Your window in the universe.
Speaker A: You've been listening to Space time with Stuart Gary. This has been another quality podcast production from Bitesz.com.
Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows.