On Monday evening SpaceX will attempt the Falcon Heavy’s “most difficult launch ever,” its first nighttime launch for the vessel which will be ferrying multiple satellites into orbit.
Also on board will be the Lightsail 2, a crowd-funded solar-sail test mission that’s currently been promoted by Bill Nye. The spacecraft will be the first to be propelled solely by sunlight. The Japanese spacecraft Ikaros previously used a solar sail, but Lightsail will be the first to run exclusively on solar technology. I’ll let Bill explain it:
Additionally, the Falcon Heavy will also be bringing a Deep Space Atomic Clock into the orbit which can potentially be used to help future spacecraft navigate to destinations far away.
If you want to watch all the action, you’ll need to stay up late. The Falcon Heavy’s launch is expected to take place at 11:30pm ET/8:30pm PT. A livestream of the event will be on NASA’s website as well as it’s You Tube channel (embedded below).
If you miss it, you’ll also be able to catch a recording of the event on NASA’s YouTube channel later in the week.
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.
July marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission which successfully landed two astronauts on the moon, and Lego is one of countless companies hoping to cash in on the accomplishment with a new 1,087-piece set that recreates the Lunar Lander with an impressive amount of detailing. But I’m a little disappointed the included Lego minifigures look like astronauts transplanted from a futuristic sci-fi movie.
Officially available starting June 1 for $100, the set includes the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module with detachable ascent and descent stages so you can recreate the historic mission again and again. But for those times when you’re not procrastinating at work, the set also serves as a desk-friendly collectible allowing you to perch and display the lunar lander on an included replica of the moon’s surface—complete with craters, footprints, and a US flag.
There’s a respectable level of detail here for what is technically a children’s building toy, and Lego has even gone to the trouble of creating special gold versions of several parts so that the Lunar Lander set looks as accurate as possible. You won’t be fooling anyone if you try to use the model to snap fake moon landing photos, but for $100 it also doesn’t require you to break out the hobby knives, glue, or paint.
What’s disappointing, however, are the tiny spacesuits worn by the set’s astronaut minifigures. They’re the same spacesuit helmets used in other Lego sets, including a series of futuristic Mars-based playsets also released today. The included Apollo 11 minifigures are slightly different, but the set would have felt even more authentic had Lego gone the extra mile and created custom minifigure astronauts with spacesuits that more closely resembled what the real Apollo-era astronauts wore. The company churns out hundreds of new minifigures every year across its various sets and collectible series, so a retro spacesuit doesn’t seem like too egregious a request.
The twisting terrain of Vera Rubin Ridge on Mars has been home to NASA’s Curiosity for over a year, but it’s time for the rover to move on. As a final gesture before trekking toward a nearby region rich in clay, the probe captured a stunning 360-degree panorama of its final worksite at the ridge.
Curiosity is in Gale Crater where it’s been exploring iron-rich minerals in Vera Rubin Ridge for well over a year. Data gathered by the probe suggests rocks within this ridge formed from sediment that collected at the bottom of a now-dried up Martian lake. As to why these rocks aren’t eroding at the same rate of the bedrock around it, however, remains a mystery.
Having explored the area in detail, project scientists at NASA have now directed the probe to head towards a new region—a “clay-bearing unit” dubbed Glen Torridon, according to a NASA release. The rover will spend around a year exploring this region in its ongoing search for signs of prior habitability.
On December 19, 2018, Curiosity used its Mast Camera to capture a 360-degree panoramic image of its final work area at Vera Rubin Ridge, specifically a drill site known as Rock Hall. The composite image consists of 112 photographs, showing the future work area, the floor of Gale Crater, and the majestic Mount Sharp in the background. The colors in the image were adjusted to show what the rocks and sand would look like under daylight conditions on Earth.
Curiosity’s new work area, described as a trough between Vera Rubin Ridge and the mountainous area surrounding the crater, looks promising in terms of its scientific potential. Prior surveys made by NASA’s Mars orbiter suggest the rocks in this region are filled with phyllosilicates—clay minerals that form in water. Data collected at Glen Torridon could tell us more about the ancient lakes that once peppered Gale Crater during the early history of the Red Planet.
“In addition to indicating a previously wet environment, clay minerals are known to trap and preserve organic molecules,” Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said in a statement. “That makes this area especially promising, and the team is already surveying the area for its next drill site.”
Indeed, Curiosity has already uncovered traces of clay minerals and organic molecules on Mars. On their own, organics aren’t suggestive of life, but they are the raw ingredients required for life. The prior presence of liquid water and organic molecules on the surface suggests the planet was once capable of fostering life, but more data is required to prove it. By exploring the clay-rich deposits at Glen Torridon, Curiosity may uncover evidence of the prior environments in which this hypothesized Martian life could have emerged.
If scientists can ever prove that Mars was once habitable (as opposed to actually fostering life—those are two different things), it means our Solar System once hosted at least two planets capable of hosting life. That’s a huge deal if true, with serious ramifications to our understanding of the Universe’s potential to bear life in general. To that end: Trek on Curiosity, trek on.