Space & Planetary Science: October 2020 Archives

The Occurrence of Rocky Habitable Zone Planets Around Solar-Like Stars from Kepler Data

"We present occurrence rates for rocky planets in the habitable zones (HZ) of main-sequence dwarf stars based on the Kepler DR25 planet candidate catalog and Gaia-based stellar properties. ... We estimate with 95% confidence that, on average, the nearest HZ planet around G and K dwarfs is about 6 pc away, and there are about 4 HZ rocky planets around G and K dwarfs within 10 pc of the Sun."

*"The term eta-Earth (also written as ZE) is defined as the mean number per star of rocky planets with between 1 and 1.5-2 Earth-radii that reside in the optimistic habitable zone (HZ) of their host star. Eta-Earth enters one formulation of the Drake equation, which endeavors to estimate the occurrence of intelligent life in the Galaxy; at the present time, it is usually calculated separately for each stellar spectral type. Thus, eta-Earth represents the occurrence rate of rocky planets in the optimistic HZ of different stars. The References present some values for eta Earth based on different statistical analyses of the data from the Kepler space telescope."

Source: Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Keith's note: False alarm. Nothing interesting. This is what the dead lander had to say: Philae's second touchdown site discovered at 'skull-top' ridge. FWIW teasing the media is the best way to have reporters start to ignore these please to pay attention to "news". Just sayin'

No Phosphine In The Atmosphere Of Venus

"The detection of phosphine (PH3) has been recently reported in the atmosphere of Venus employing mm-wave radio observations (Greaves et at. 2020). We here demonstrate that the observed PH3 feature with JCMT can be fully explained employing plausible mesospheric SO2 abundances (~100 ppbv as per the SO2 profile given in their figure 9), while the identification of PH3 in the ALMA data should be considered invalid due to severe baseline calibration issues. We demonstrate this by independently calibrating and analyzing the ALMA data using different interferometric analysis tools, in which we observe no PH3 in all cases."

- Phosphine Detected In The Atmosphere of Venus - An Indicator of Possible Life?, earlier post
- Re-analysis Of The 267-GHz ALMA Observations of Venus: No Statistically Significant Detection Of Phosphine, earlier post
- A Stringent Upper Limit Of The PH3 (Phosphine) Abundance At The Cloud Top Of Venus , earlier post
- Hypothesis Perspectives: Might Active Volcanisms Today Contribute To The Presence Of Phosphine In Venus's Atmosphere?, earlier post
- Phosphine On Venus Cannot Be Explained By Conventional Processes, earlier post
- Phosphine Gas in the Cloud Decks of Venus, earlier post
- Possible Marker Of Life Spotted On Venus, earlier post

NASA's SOFIA Discovers Water on Sunlit Surface of Moon, NASA

"NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has confirmed, for the first time, water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places. SOFIA has detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon's southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon's surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH). Data from this location reveal water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million - roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water - trapped in a cubic meter of soil spread across the lunar surface."

Keith's note: I asked Jacob Bleacher: "Now that water seems to be a ubiquitous resource, one would think that the polar focus might pivot. Are you reconsidering landing sites as a result of this discovery? Up until now the Artemis program has put forth a persistent mantra about focusing human landings at the lunar south pole due to potential water resources. It has been polar, polar, polar." Bleacher replied that sunlight access more than half the time is also being sought in terms of power and you get that at the poles. "Water is one resource on the lunar resource but it is not the only resource - right now we are still focused on south polar region."

NASA to Announce New Science Results About Moon

"NASA will announce an exciting new discovery about the Moon from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) at a media teleconference at 12 p.m. EDT Monday, Oct. 26. Audio of the teleconference will stream live on the agency's website."

Keith's note: OK, let's use Google. Look what shows up if you search for some names, Moon, and SOFIA. Gee, I wonder if the "exciting" news has to do with water on the Moon.


"However, we developed a new approach to detect the actual water molecule on the Moon using observations at 6 µm, based on how geologists detect H2O in samples in the lab using infrared spectroscopy. Observations at 6 µm are only possible from an airborne infrared observatory, we were granted time on the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to collect data of the Moon. Using data from SOFIA we report the first direct detection of the water molecule on the illuminated lunar surface."

Lunar Observations from SOFIA: Recent Results and Next Plans

"Date: Monday, October 26, 2020 - 12:30pm PDT Speaker: Casey Honniball - Bill Reach Affiliation: NASA Goddard - SOFIA/USRA"

A Clearer Look at Lunar Surface Hydration, AGU

"Using the thermally corrected IRTF data, the authors confirm the temperature-dependent variation of hydration on the lunar surface. The surface appears less hydrated closer to local noon, at which time the surface reaches its maximum temperature. They also observe a latitudinal dependence, with more hydration appearing at higher latitudes, particularly in the southern hemisphere."

Of course, there is the ongoing issue of somewhat underwhelming support for SOFIA - and I guess they could use some good news - hence the hype. ARC, GSFC and USRA are really rolling out the red carpet for this "exciting" news. Stay tuned.

OSIRIS-REx Samples Asteroid Bennu

"NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm Tuesday, and in a first for the agency, briefly touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023. This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday's sample collection event, known as "Touch-And-Go" (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January."

Keith's note: My question to the 1:00 pm Asteroid mission media telecon: "There is a lot of talk these days from NASA about the collection and utilization of resources in the solar system - indeed, the recently signed #Artemis Accords specifically deal with this issue with regard to the Moon, Mars, Asteroids, and comets. Is the OSIRIS-Rex sample collection system open source - can other space agencies or companies use this technology? Is it being considered for use on other missions? Same question about the Lucy, Psyche and DART systems."

With regard to OSIRIS-Rex Lori Glaz said that NASA needs to check. Regarding the Psyche mission Lindy Elkins-Tanton said that it is being done via a partnership with Maxnar who was selected because they have a lot of experience over a hundred spacecraft. The hope is that the design of the mission will be available to future missions. Regarding Lucy, Hal Levison said that a lot of the hardware is proprietary to Lockheed Martin and is based on flown hardware to reduce costs. No mention was made regarding DART technology.

Keith's update: At the 3:00 pm briefing I re-asked the question of SMD AA Thomas Zurbuchen adding: "NASA is going to do something that it has never done before with applicability to many future missions and activities in space - things that have been called out in the Artemis Accords. Many of the missions you are sending out are technology demonstrators. If you are sending a thing to a world with the specific task of demonstrating a way to do something new on that world, then the results - and the way you got them - are of equal importance - and the Artemis Accords would seem to want you to make a lot of that information accessible. Is NASA going to make OSIRIS-Rex technology available in an open source fashion for other agencies - and perhaps companies - to use? I know there is a difference between scientific results and engineering performance and that there are always ITAR issues. How is the dissemination of this new technology going to evolve?"

He replied: "We have been a leader internationally in making things public. We are also making our models public. We believe in the dissemination of science since that speeds up discovery and also broadens it. We think that doing so inspires people to figure out things to do with our science in ways that we would have never thought to do. There were multiple solutions to the technology needed for this mission. In this case the arm was developed by a Lockheed Martin employee - so according to U.S. law the company owns that invention. I talked to Lockheed Martin and asked what they'd do if someone was interested in the design and they said to come on in since they are interested in spreading this technology. There are many different avenues to take regarding intellectual property (IP). IP is an important ingredient of pharmaceutical discovery. If we want to encourage the speed of discovery then we need a IP model that adapts to way that this actually works. Success for us at NASA is not just that the mission is successful. We want any company that can use the technology that we have developed to enhance business base to create more jobs around the country. In that regard I think we are consistent with the Artemis Accords."

James Webb Space Telescope Completes Environmental Testing

"With the completion of its latest series of milestone tests, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has now survived all of the harsh conditions associated with a rocket launch to space. Webb's recent tests have validated that the fully assembled observatory will endure the deafening noise, and the jarring shakes, rattles and vibrations that the observatory will experience during liftoff. Known as "acoustic" and "sine-vibration" testing, NASA has worked carefully with its international partners to match Webb's testing environment precisely to what Webb will experience both on launch day, and when operating in orbit."



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