This Week in Space: Goodbye and Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols

Greetings to all. This week we got a quick boost of space weather, just in time for Monday’s Artemis 1 launch. We have new data from Persistence, and regularly the record-breaking James Webb Space Telescope — surprise! – broke another record. We also salute the late, great Star Trek Former student Nichelle Nichols.

The solar climate continues to grow

Yesterday afternoon, a magnetic filament moved over the Sun, releasing a partial halo coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. It will arrive on Monday, but it will likely be a noticeable bump. NOAA gives a 50-50 chance that it will produce a mild geomagnetic storm, producing auroras around the Arctic Circle. So far, no one has predicted any risk to the Artemis launch.

Today’s space climate is much less mild, and changing rapidly. This morning, reported that “Sunspot AR3089 is cracking in a series of M-class solar flares. The strongest yet (26 Aug @ 1216 UT) M7 registered and caused a shortwave radio blackout over much of Europe and Africa.” NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured one of these extreme UV flashes, which you can see here:

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an extreme UV flash from sunspot AR3089, shown below left. Photo: NASA SDO, via

We still don’t know if AR3089 will come with an associated CME. Meanwhile, the report concludes, “AR3089 appears to be on the verge of producing an X-flare.” SOHO will become clearer with new data from the coronagraph.

Artemis 1 launches on Monday

Artemis 1 launch is fast approaching. On Monday, NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System will lift off from Pad 39B at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It’s an uncrewed mission—but the rocket’s Orion capsule will still carry three unique passengers.

We’ve written about two of them before: the torsos of two female figurines named Helga and Zohar. Most crash test dummies are male-bodied, so most safety gear is sized for men. Unfortunately, this means that women are disproportionately likely to be injured during an accident or mishap. Helga and Zohar will be testing safety gear and a shiny new radiation protection jacket, for women of all sizes. That in itself is cool enough. But we’re happy to report that the launch will carry a third passenger: a mannequin named Commander Munikin Campos, who will lead the mission.

The mannequin commander’s name is a nod to NASA electrical engineer Arturo Campos, whose contingency planning helped get the Apollo 13 astronauts home safely. Aboard Orion, the mannequin will test the Orion Crew Survival System, the spacesuits worn by Artemis astronauts during launch and landing.

Artemis 1 will not touch the moon. Instead, it’s bound for lunar orbit, where the Orion capsule will spend several weeks in orbit before splashing into the Pacific Ocean. NASA is streaming the launch, and Pad 39B’s YouTube stream is already live.

Break a leg, guys.

JWST releases its largest night sky image yet

The Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS) has released the largest ever image of the night sky — and it’s from the James Webb Space Telescope. The new starfield data comes from Webb’s NIRCam and MIRI instruments. It’s a gorgeous composite shot, and it’s so new that scientists are still poring over it to make their reports.

This image—a mosaic of 690 individual frames taken with the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on the James Webb Space Telescope—covers an area of ​​the sky nearly eight times larger than Webb's first deep field image released on July 12.  This is from a patch.  of the sky near the handle of the Big Dipper.  It is one of the first images obtained by the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS) collaboration.  The six inset boxes show zoomed-in objects of interest: 1) a spiral galaxy at a redshift of z=0.16.  The resolution of JWST imaging reveals abundant blue star-forming clumps and star clusters.  2) A chance alignment of a bright galaxy at redshift z=2 where several smaller galaxies form an arc on the sky as seen from the web.  3) An interacting system of galaxies at z=1.4, by the CEERS team

Credit: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. leva

According to the team, these images “cover the near-infrared to mid-infrared wavelengths of the EGS field — a small patch of sky near the handle of the Big Dipper.” The researchers have made the ultra-high-resolution images available on their Github for anyone who wants to poke around. This release, which the team calls Epoch 1, covers less than half of the total survey area of ​​the CEERS survey, so it should yield larger-scale images in the future when the institute completes its work.

Web detects carbon dioxide in other planets’ atmospheres

Speaking of things named 39B, we’ve written about exoplanet WASP-39 b before. It is a so-called “hot Jupiter” – a gas giant roughly the size of Jupiter, orbiting very close to its host star. In fact, WASP-39 b is about 8 times closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun, and the planet’s “year” is only four days long. Hot Jupiters seem fairly common in the universe, and scientists are still figuring out why our own solar system lacks one.

However, Web Telescope can tell something about it. For the first time, JWST has detected carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of another planet.

Credit: Illustration: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI); Science: JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team

We have previously detected atmospheric water vapor, sodium and potassium, but never picked up CO2 Before. So how did we do it this time? We get help from the planet’s orbit, which is “edge” with respect to Earth. In a blog post, NASA explains: “Because different gases absorb different color combinations, researchers can analyze small differences in the brightness of transmitted light across a spectrum of wavelengths to determine exactly what an atmosphere is made of.”

Perseverance finds more evidence of ancient water on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover and its companion space copter, Ingenuity, have shaken off some winter dust. This week, NASA announced that the rover found that the floor of Jezero Crater is composed of volcanic rock that has interacted with water. Two separate scientific papers detail the findings.

“One of the great values ​​of the volcanic rocks we have collected is that they will tell us when the lake was present in Jezero. We know it was there more recently than the crater floor rocks,” said Ken Farley, Caltech’s Persistence Project Scientist, lead author of one of the reports. “This will address some key questions: When was the Martian climate conducive to surface lakes and rivers, and when did it change to the very cold and dry conditions we have today?”

To make observations, scientists used onboard instruments, including Perseverance’s SuperCam laser and a ground-penetrating radar called RIMFAX (Radar Imager for the Mars Subsurface Experiment).

Nichelle Nichols will rest in the stars

When the Vulcan Center rocket makes its maiden flight later this year, it will be carrying some particularly valuable cargo. The primary mission of the rocket is to introduce astrobotic technology Peregrine The lunar rover, however, will also carry its remains Star Trek Starring Nichelle Nichols.

Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock. Copyright: Paramount Pictures

On-screen, Nichols is best known for her role as Nyota Uhura in the 1966 television series. Star Trek. Nichols originated the part and returned to the character for it Star Trek: The Animated Seriessix Star Trek Feature film, a Futurama episodes, various fan-made projects, and several video games over the past 30 years.

Nichols portrayed the first interracial kiss in US television history with William Shatner. Her role as Uhura inspired Whoopi Goldberg’s portrayal of Guinan, as well as the NASA astronaut (and fellow Star Trek Actor!) Mae Jamieson. Following in Nichols’ trailblazing tradition, Jamison herself became the first black woman in space as well as the first person to be an astronaut and Star Trek the actor

Sophia, Nichelle Nichols on NASA’s Flying Telescope. As we mentioned in 2015: The observant reader may notice in the image below that Lt. Uhura was apparently accompanied by several trebles, which leaves some questions about the plane’s ultimate fate. Photo: NASA/Nichelle Nichols

Off-screen, Nichols worked with NASA over the years to recruit various astronauts, including Sally Ride and Charles Bolden. Even late in life, Nichols was a passionate advocate for space exploration and astronomy. He flew a dual science and outreach mission on SOFIA, NASA’s flying telescope, in 2015. And now, a part of him will rest forever in the starlight. Farewell to an icon.

Skywatchers Corner

As August approaches, why not try a little stargazing? At this time of year, the constellation Cygnus is a beautiful telescope target. Also, this weekend is the new moon. Skywatchers don’t have to deal with moonlight.

NASA skywatching expert Preston Dyches explains that Cygnus, the swan, flies high in the eastern sky after dark. Cygnus has an overall shape similar to a T or cross and has a star pattern sometimes called the “Northern Cross”.

The constellation Cygnus represents a beautiful swan across the dusty lanes of the Milky Way. Credit: NASA/Preston Dyches

Cygnus is anchored by its bright star, Deneb, which represents the swan’s tail. Brilliant Deneb is the northernmost of the three constellations of the Summer Triangle and is also visible through light pollution. If Deneb is the tail, then the double star Albirio is its beak. Albireo is great for stargazing, as it shows beautiful blue and gold colors through most ordinary telescopes.

Look for Denebi, the northernmost of the three bright stars that make up the summer triangle. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cygnus lies in the plane of the Milky Way, so it is dense with unique features, including bright stars, dark dust clouds, the North America Nebula, the Veil Nebula, and the Blinking Planetary Nebula.

That’s all for this week, folks. We’ll be watching the Artemis launch livestream with you on Monday. See you again soon!

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