Space & Planetary Science: February 2017 Archives

NASA Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop

"NASA's Planetary Science Division (PSD) is planning to host a community workshop at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC on February 27-28 and March 1, 2017. This workshop is meant to provide PSD with a very long-range vision of what planetary science may look like in the future. The workshop is to gather the leading experts in Solar System planetary science and related disciplines, together with experts in space technologies, to identify potential science goals and enabling technologies that can be implemented by the end of the 2040s and would support the next phase of Solar System exploration."

Keith's note: The workshop will be held in the Auditorium at NASA Headquarters. However neither news media or the public are allowed to attend or participate in this event in any way. Here is the program and abstracts. You can watch portions of the event on LiveStream - but that's it. But since the Planetary Society (not a news or media organization) is a co-sponsor they will be able to have their 'reporters' present. This is how NASA involves the public these days: Look (or listen) but don't touch.

If you go to the NASA.gov website calendar there is no mention of this event. Nor is there any mention on the Solar System and Beyond page or the NASA Science Mission Directorate page. If you go to the NASA TV webpage and the Upcoming Events page there is no mention of this 3 day event. So the public will not know anything about it either. Nothing has been posted on any NASA Twitter account that I can find. Even though there is a Livestream for this 3 day event no one other than the attendees will know about it since NASA is not promoting the link in any way.

Last week NASA wanted the entire world to revel in the amazing discovery of 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. This week all of the NASA people who do this sort of stuff are meeting in Washington to plan what to do next - but not a single one of us can ask any of them a question, look at their posters, or interact with them in any way.

Keith's update: NASA PAO said that I can attend this event.

NASA to Host News Conference on Discovery Beyond Our Solar System

"NASA will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. EST Wednesday, Feb. 22, to present new findings on planets that orbit stars other than our sun, known as exoplanets. The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website. Details of these findings are embargoed by the journal Nature until 1 p.m."

Keith's update: I have now learned that tomorrow's NASA news announcement is not about Alpha Centauri as I had been guessing (darn) but it is is something even more cool - or "warm" to be precise. Instead, the NASA announcement on Wednesday will be about a nearby star that has at least 7 Earth-sized planets.

The individuals attending this press event at NASA have been looking for planets circling other stars. Last year one of the participants, Michael Gillon, was lead author on a paper "Temperate Earth-sized planets transiting a nearby ultracool dwarf star" in Nature detailing how his team had confirmed 3 small terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets circulating a cool dwarf star 2MASS J23062928-0502285 (now known as TRAPPIST-1), a M8V class star which is only 39.5 light years away.

It will be announced tomorrow by NASA that Gillon et al have confirmed 4 more Earth-sized planets circling TRAPPIST-1. It is possible that most of the planets confirmed thus circling far TRAPPIST-1 could be in the star's habitable zone. The inner 6 planets are probably rocky in composition and may be just the right temperature for liquid water to exist (between 0 - 100 degrees C) - if they have any water, that is. The outermost 7th planet still needs some more observations to nail down its orbit and composition.

Astronomers are clearly excited about these planets (see below). The article will appear in Nature magazine, as noted by NASA in its media advisory.

But - and this is important for all you UK tabloid writers - NO ONE HAS DISCOVERED LIFE ON ANOTHER PLANET. Got that?

Important note: No one sent us anything in advance about the details of this specific announcement or paper under embargo - or any other pre-announcement arrangement. No scientific paper - nothing. We honor embargoes - when we are under them. I saw what NASA had posted yesterday to tease people (including participant names and a topic) and went to work - hence my earlier Alpha Centauri sleuthing which strongly overlapped with TRAPPIST-1 discoveries. I eventually figured it out and sourced it - all by myself - using openly available preprints, observation proposals and results, email, and phone calls folks. I am leaving my earlier Alpha Centauri speculation up for all to see (below).

Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter

"The orbital period does not affect the quality of the science collected by Juno on each flyby, since the altitude over Jupiter will be the same at the time of closest approach. In fact, the longer orbit provides new opportunities that allow further exploration of the far reaches of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field, increasing the value of Juno's research. ... The original Juno flight plan envisioned the spacecraft looping around Jupiter twice in 53-day orbits, then reducing its orbital period to 14 days for the remainder of the mission. However, two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft's main engine did not operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized in October. Telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that it took several minutes for the valves to open, while it took only a few seconds during past main engine firings. ... Juno's larger 53-day orbit allows for "bonus science" that wasn't part of the original mission design."

Keith's note: So NASA's Juno spacecraft has engine problems that prevent it from accomplishing its planned i.e. optimal science mission. But that's OK since NASA says that none of the science is affected by the engine problems. Indeed, they say that the science is better - and they get "Bonus science" too! Bonus science is good, yes? But wait: if Juno's science is not affected by engine failures - indeed its now better without the engine firings - then why did they plan the engine firings and orbit changes in the first place?

And all of these extra longer orbits will require 3-4 years to complete to get all that bonus science goodness. Oh yes: the spacecraft was not designed to operate that long - and it is going to cost another $100 million or so to operate the spacecraft during this time - not something NASA has in its budget. When you read these feel good releases that try and make technical failures look like good news just remember that NASA = Never A Straight Answer

Trump's Advisers Want to Return Humans to the Moon in Three Years, The Atlantic

"[Planetary Society's Casey] Dreier cautions that the latest glimpse of potential Trump space policy may be just that--a peek into the internal debate over NASA's mission, rather than a clear roadmap for the space agency's future. ... Human spaceflight programs are expensive, and risk overshadowing such projects. "Science always tends to suffer when human spaceflight programs go over budget," Dreier says."

Keith's note: Of course Casey Drier omits the flip side of this statement - when space science missions go over budget (crashing Mars probes in the 90s, James Webb Space Telescope, Mars Science Laboratory, Mars 2020 rover etc.) Space Science tends to suffer much, much more - and it is self-inflicted.


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from February 2017.

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