R.I.P. Opportunity 2004-2019

On Wednesday, NASA that the Mars land rover Opportunity has died after 15 years. The six-wheeled vehicle’s death is being attributed to a severe dust storm.

From the AP:

“Flight controllers tried numerous times to make contact, and sent one final series of recovery commands Tuesday night, along with one last wake-up song, Billie Holiday’s ‘I’ll Be Seeing You,’ in a somber exercise that brought tears to team members’ eyes. There was no response from space, only silence.

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science missions, broke the news to the Opportunity team at what amounted to a wake at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, announcing the demise of ‘our beloved Opportunity.’

Given the silence from space, ‘it is therefore that I’m standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete,’ Zurbruchen told a packed auditorium. ‘It’s an emotional time.’”

Opportunity was one of two rovers that landed on the Mars in 2004. The other rover, Spirit, didn’t last as long as Opportunity. Communications with Spirit were lost after it was caught in a sand trap. Nonetheless, both vehicles exceeded NASA’s expectations.

When Opportunity and Spirit landed on Mars in 2004, the mission was only meant to last 90 days. But the vehicles, which were sent to different parts of the planet, proved to be surprisingly durable. Communication with Opportunity was finally lost in June 2018, and as rugged as the vehicle was, it was no match for the severe dust storm it encountered.

Opportunity explored an area of Mars called Perseverance Valley when it encountered the dust storm, which was so harsh that it darkened the sky for months and prevented sunlight from reaching Opportunity’s solar panels.

Opportunity was the fifth of eight NASA space vehicles that have successfully landed on Mars. Two of them are still working: Curiosity (which landed in 2012) and InSight (which landed recently).

 

Go The Distance

A couple of weeks ago, astronomers spotted what they believe is the most distant object in the solar system  a dwarf planet some 9.5 billion miles from the sun. Dubbed V774104, the object is between 310 miles and 620 miles across about half Pluto’s size and about three times farther from the sun.

V774104 is about 103 times farther from the sun than Earth, and scientists’ early guess is that it is part of a rare group of ‘sednoids,’ objects whose orbital paths exist entirely outside the Kuiper Belt and extend into the Oort Cloud, the boundary of our solar system. Only two confirmed sednoids exist, Sedna and 2012 VP113 but scientists suspect there are more.

If V774104 proves to be one, it would provide astronomers with further support for the theory that an undiscovered Planet X is lurking in the outer fringes of our solar system. The gravitational pull from a Planet X would help explain the highly elliptical orbits of the sednoids.

Until astronomers spotted V774104, the dwarf planet Eris was considered the solar system’s most distant object. Eris is about 97 astronomical units from the sun, while V774104 is 103 AUs (the unit of length equal to the distance between Earth and the sun).

Another One Bites The Dust

Last month was the warmest October ever recorded and the sixth straight month to set record temperatures. It also was the first month to surpass the average temperature by more than 1 degree Celsius, according to new NASA data revealed Tuesday.

October was 1.04 degrees Celsius (1.87 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the base period of 1951 to 1980 used as a reference to measure the long-term average. That marks the greatest departure from a month’s average heat since weather record-keeping began in 1880, beating January 2007 as the most anomalous month by 0.07 degrees Celsius.

Surpassing the 1-degree mark is significant because it puts the Earth halfway to the internationally accepted limit for avoiding the worst consequences of climate change such as drought, mass migration and superstorms. Putting a stop to climate change before it reaches the 2-degree milestone is the main goal of the Paris Climate Summit beginning Nov. 3.

October’s heat comes in a banner year of record-breaking weather events. July was the hottest month ever recorded. In the United States this year, Florida recorded its hottest March to May.California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Washington all logged their hottest Junes.

The shockingly high temperatures in October all but guarantees that 2015 will be the world’s hottest year ever recorded, beating the record set in…2014.

What Happened to Mars’ Atmosphere?

The Earth-like atmosphere that once existed on Mars seems to have been blown away by solar wind, according to new findings from NASA’s ongoing exploration of the red planet.

In a press conference Thursday, the space agency confirmed that solar wind played a major role in the disappearance of the Mars’ atmosphere and water.

The discovery, published in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters, sheds new light on how the planet evolved from having a warm and wet environment that might have hosted life to becoming the cold, arid world it is today. Solar winds did have the same effect on Earth due to our planet’s strong magnetic fields.

Watch a Star Get REKT

This might be one of the most violent acts in the universe… but it sure is fun to watch. A new animation from NASA shows what happens to a star when it gets too close to a black hole.

It doesn’t end well for the star.

The extreme gravity of the black hole causes intense tidal forces to tug at the star and tear it apart. Most of it gets sucked into the black hole, but some of it gets flung outward into space at high speeds. This results in an X-ray flare that can be seen for years.

The study was based on observations of a tidal disruption event called ASASSN-14li, which was first spotted in November 2014 and is taking place about 290 million light years away.

Over the summer, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said something sucked inside a black hole may not be gone forever after all, but instead may come out in an alternate universe. So you might have that to look forward to at least.