Tag Archives: Paul Rincon

Ice Worlds, Ho! NASA is Going to Europa!

With all the talk about colonizing Mars and returning to the Moon, it is great to hear that NASA has committed to the Europa Clipper mission [1].

I’m a long time advocate of exploring the ice worlds (and here, here, here, here, here, here, here), so I know exactly why we need to go to Europa:  there is a liquid ocean under the ice, and there appears to be active, organic chemistry going on.

This mission will repeatedly fly by, and take extensive measurements from space.  This is hard, and the even harder mission to actually land on Europa has not been even mooted yet.

When we finally see what is in that ocean, there will be one of three findings, each one foundational:

  1. There will be no life, just energetic chemistry. We are alone.
  2. There will be life, and it will be related to us. Life is not limited to Earth, and has spread between planets.
  3. There will be life, and it will be unrelated to us. Life can emerge independently in many places.

The Europa Clipper aims to launch circa 2025 if things go well.  Fingers crossed. (Nothing that involves Washington DC is likely to “go well” these days.)

I don’t know what the exact flight plan will be It takes something like 7-10 years to get out to Europa.  So the exploration would be in the 2030’s, which is getting past my own lifetime.  I may not live to see it, but I sure hope we make it.


  1. NASA, Europa Clipper’s Mission to Jupiter’s Icy Moon Confirmed, in NASA – Europa Clipper. 2019. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/europa-clippers-mission-to-jupiter-s-icy-moon-confirmed
  2. Paul Rincon, Nasa confirms ocean moon mission, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49408495

 

Space Saturday

Now That’s What I Call Science!

The Hayabusa-2 has already imaged and sampled the asteroid Ryugu, but today is the big day:  the big sample!

In the fine tradition of Mythbusters, JAXA has ramped it up.  After three little landers, and a couple of swoop-pop-scoop passes, it’s time to dig a big hole—with a cannon.

The naval bombardment apparently took place as scheduled today.  In a few weeks, the spacecraft will swoop in to try to sample the crater, which should have exposed fresh material from under the crust.

And then, fly away, fly away home!

Cool!  Well done, all!


  1. Paul Rincon, Hayabusa-2: Japanese probe likely to have ‘bombed’ an asteroid, in BBC News – Science & Environemnt. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47818460

 

Space Saturday

Small Body Science from Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

50 years after first LPSC, there is lot’s of interesting science about the “small bodies” of our solar system.  Of course, this summer will be the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, which returned the first samples from the moon.

This year, the LCPC meeting is Asteroid Central, with reports about Ultima Thule, Psyche, and the two asteroids currently being sampled, Ryugu and Bennu.  It’s getting hard to keep up with all this.

I wasn’t at the conference, so I’m going on media reports and other publications. (Note:  this post is intended as place holder.  I have only skimmed these articles, but I want to be able to find them later, so I listed them all here.)

NASA’s New Horizons mission shot past Pluto in 2016 and kept on toward morning, zinging by Ultima Thule last summer.  The new reports give a lot more information about this way out, very cold, quite odd body [9].  It’s obviously two objects that crashed together.  Less obvious is what’s going on with the flattened pancake shapes.  Lots of grist for computation models of accretion n the early solar system!

One place we haven’t visited yet is 16 Psyche, which looks to be an interesting object. [10]  This object appears to be mostly Iron, which is unusual and, of course, smells like money to some people. NASA is currently developing a mission, hoping to launch in 2022, fingers crossed.

And, of course, the two current asteroid missions seem to be dueling each other for attention.

The Hayabusa-2 mission was on site at first, and has dropped landers and begun the planned bombardment and sampling. [8].  Initial findings [6, 12, 13] suggest that Ryugu is an accumulation of ruble from other bodies—and we’re look around for likely neighbors nearby..  Ruygu’s peculiar cubical shape is certainly grist for the computational modelers, too.

Not to be outdone by JAXA, NASA’s Osiris Rex mission also published a burst or papers about Bunnu this week [1, 3-5, 7, 11].  As always, you have to actually go there to find out stuff:  Bunnu is spewing out debris again and again, conceivably endangering the spacecraft.

The NASA mission intends to land and sample Bennu, though this will be challenging.  The entire surface is covered with large boulders, with nary a clearing suitable for a landing.  It’s going to need to be very precise, and who knows if the surface will be loose enough for the sampling mechanism designed to collect sand to get much. [2, 14]

This seems to be a (possibly short) golden age of asteroid studies!  Fingers crossed that we get both missions back home with samples.


  1. O. S. Barnouin, M. G. Daly, E. E. Palmer, R. W. Gaskell, J. R. Weirich, C. L. Johnson, M. M. Al Asad, J. H. Roberts, M. E. Perry, H. C. M. Susorney, R. T. Daly, E. B. Bierhaus, J. A. Seabrook, R. C. Espiritu, A. H. Nair, L. Nguyen, G. A. Neumann, C. M. Ernst, W. V. Boynton, M. C. Nolan, C. D. Adam, M. C. Moreau, B. Rizk, C. Y. Drouet D’Aubigny, E. R. Jawin, K. J. Walsh, P. Michel, S. R. Schwartz, R. L. Ballouz, E. M. Mazarico, D. J. Scheeres, J. W. McMahon, W. F. Bottke, S. Sugita, N. Hirata, N. Hirata, S. i Watanabe, K. N. Burke, D. N. DellaGiustina, C. A. Bennett, D. S. Lauretta, D. E. Highsmith, J. Small, D. Vokrouhlický, N. E. Bowles, E. Brown, K. L. Donaldson Hanna, T. Warren, C. Brunet, R. A. Chicoine, S. Desjardins, D. Gaudreau, T. Haltigin, S. Millington-Veloza, A. Rubi, J. Aponte, N. Gorius, A. Lunsford, B. Allen, J. Grindlay, D. Guevel, D. Hoak, J. Hong, D. L. Schrader, J. Bayron, O. Golubov, P. Sánchez, J. Stromberg, M. Hirabayashi, C. M. Hartzell, S. Oliver, M. Rascon, A. Harch, J. Joseph, S. Squyres, D. Richardson, J. P. Emery, L. McGraw, R. Ghent, R. P. Binzel, M. M. Al Asad, C. L. Johnson, L. Philpott, H. C. M. Susorney, E. A. Cloutis, R. D. Hanna, H. C. Connolly, F. Ciceri, A. R. Hildebrand, E. M. Ibrahim, L. Breitenfeld, T. Glotch, A. D. Rogers, B. E. Clark, S. Ferrone, C. A. Thomas, H. Campins, Y. Fernandez, W. Chang, A. Cheuvront, D. Trang, S. Tachibana, H. Yurimoto, J. R. Brucato, G. Poggiali, M. Pajola, E. Dotto, E. Mazzotta Epifani, M. K. Crombie, C. Lantz, M. R. M. Izawa, J. de Leon, J. Licandro, J. L. Rizos Garcia, S. Clemett, K. Thomas-Keprta, S. Van wal, M. Yoshikawa, J. Bellerose, S. Bhaskaran, C. Boyles, S. R. Chesley, C. M. Elder, D. Farnocchia, A. Harbison, B. Kennedy, A. Knight, N. Martinez-Vlasoff, N. Mastrodemos, T. McElrath, W. Owen, R. Park, B. Rush, L. Swanson, Y. Takahashi, D. Velez, K. Yetter, C. Thayer, C. Adam, P. Antreasian, J. Bauman, C. Bryan, B. Carcich, M. Corvin, J. Geeraert, J. Hoffman, J. M. Leonard, E. Lessac-Chenen, A. Levine, J. McAdams, L. McCarthy, D. Nelson, B. Page, J. Pelgrift, E. Sahr, K. Stakkestad, D. Stanbridge, D. Wibben, B. Williams, K. Williams, P. Wolff, P. Hayne, D. Kubitschek, M. A. Barucci, J. D. P. Deshapriya, S. Fornasier, M. Fulchignoni, P. Hasselmann, F. Merlin, A. Praet, E. B. Bierhaus, O. Billett, A. Boggs, B. Buck, S. Carlson-Kelly, J. Cerna, K. Chaffin, E. Church, M. Coltrin, J. Daly, A. Deguzman, R. Dubisher, D. Eckart, D. Ellis, P. Falkenstern, A. Fisher, M. E. Fisher, P. Fleming, K. Fortney, S. Francis, S. Freund, S. Gonzales, P. Haas, A. Hasten, D. Hauf, A. Hilbert, D. Howell, F. Jaen, N. Jayakody, M. Jenkins, K. Johnson, M. Lefevre, H. Ma, C. Mario, K. Martin, C. May, M. McGee, B. Miller, C. Miller, G. Miller, A. Mirfakhrai, E. Muhle, C. Norman, R. Olds, C. Parish, M. Ryle, M. Schmitzer, P. Sherman, M. Skeen, M. Susak, B. Sutter, Q. Tran, C. Welch, R. Witherspoon, J. Wood, J. Zareski, M. Arvizu-Jakubicki, E. Asphaug, E. Audi, R. L. Ballouz, R. Bandrowski, K. J. Becker, T. L. Becker, S. Bendall, C. A. Bennett, H. Bloomenthal, D. Blum, W. V. Boynton, J. Brodbeck, K. N. Burke, M. Chojnacki, A. Colpo, J. Contreras, J. Cutts, C. Y. Drouet d’Aubigny, D. Dean, D. N. DellaGiustina, B. Diallo, D. Drinnon, K. Drozd, H. L. Enos, R. Enos, C. Fellows, T. Ferro, M. R. Fisher, G. Fitzgibbon, M. Fitzgibbon, J. Forelli, T. Forrester, I. Galinsky, R. Garcia, A. Gardner, D. R. Golish, N. Habib, D. Hamara, D. Hammond, K. Hanley, K. Harshman, C. W. Hergenrother, K. Herzog, D. Hill, C. Hoekenga, S. Hooven, E. S. Howell, E. Huettner, A. Janakus, J. Jones, T. R. Kareta, J. Kidd, K. Kingsbury, S. S. Balram-Knutson, L. Koelbel, J. Kreiner, D. Lambert, D. S. Lauretta, C. Lewin, B. Lovelace, M. Loveridge, M. Lujan, C. K. Maleszewski, R. Malhotra, K. Marchese, E. McDonough, N. Mogk, V. Morrison, E. Morton, R. Munoz, J. Nelson, M. C. Nolan and Osiris-REx Team The, Shape of (101955) Bennu indicative of a rubble pile with internal stiffness. Nature Geoscience, 2019/03/19 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0330-x
  2. Kenneth Chang and Shannon Stirone (2019) The Asteroid Was Shooting Rocks Into Space. ‘Were We Safe in Orbit?’ New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/science/bennu-ryugu-asteroids.html
  3. D. N. DellaGiustina, J. P. Emery, D. R. Golish, B. Rozitis, C. A. Bennett, K. N. Burke, R. L. Ballouz, K. J. Becker, P. R. Christensen, C. Y. Drouet d’Aubigny, V. E. Hamilton, D. C. Reuter, B. Rizk, A. A. Simon, E. Asphaug, J. L. Bandfield, O. S. Barnouin, M. A. Barucci, E. B. Bierhaus, R. P. Binzel, W. F. Bottke, N. E. Bowles, H. Campins, B. C. Clark, B. E. Clark, H. C. Connolly, M. G. Daly, J. de Leon, M. Delbo’, J. D. P. Deshapriya, C. M. Elder, S. Fornasier, C. W. Hergenrother, E. S. Howell, E. R. Jawin, H. H. Kaplan, T. R. Kareta, L. Le Corre, J. Y. Li, J. Licandro, L. F. Lim, P. Michel, J. Molaro, M. C. Nolan, M. Pajola, M. Popescu, J. L. Rizos Garcia, A. Ryan, S. R. Schwartz, N. Shultz, M. A. Siegler, P. H. Smith, E. Tatsumi, C. A. Thomas, K. J. Walsh, C. W. V. Wolner, X. D. Zou, D. S. Lauretta, D. E. Highsmith, J. Small, D. Vokrouhlický, N. E. Bowles, E. Brown, K. L. Donaldson Hanna, T. Warren, C. Brunet, R. A. Chicoine, S. Desjardins, D. Gaudreau, T. Haltigin, S. Millington-Veloza, A. Rubi, J. Aponte, N. Gorius, A. Lunsford, B. Allen, J. Grindlay, D. Guevel, D. Hoak, J. Hong, D. L. Schrader, J. Bayron, O. Golubov, P. Sánchez, J. Stromberg, M. Hirabayashi, C. M. Hartzell, S. Oliver, M. Rascon, A. Harch, J. Joseph, S. Squyres, D. Richardson, J. P. Emery, L. McGraw, R. Ghent, R. P. Binzel, M. M. Al Asad, C. L. Johnson, L. Philpott, H. C. M. Susorney, E. A. Cloutis, R. D. Hanna, H. C. Connolly, F. Ciceri, A. R. Hildebrand, E. M. Ibrahim, L. Breitenfeld, T. Glotch, A. D. Rogers, B. E. Clark, S. Ferrone, C. A. Thomas, H. Campins, Y. Fernandez, W. Chang, A. Cheuvront, D. Trang, S. Tachibana, H. Yurimoto, J. R. Brucato, G. Poggiali, M. Pajola, E. Dotto, E. Mazzotta Epifani, M. K. Crombie, C. Lantz, M. R. M. Izawa, J. de Leon, J. Licandro, J. L. Rizos Garcia, S. Clemett, K. Thomas-Keprta, S. Van wal, M. Yoshikawa, J. Bellerose, S. Bhaskaran, C. Boyles, S. R. Chesley, C. M. Elder, D. Farnocchia, A. Harbison, B. Kennedy, A. Knight, N. Martinez-Vlasoff, N. Mastrodemos, T. McElrath, W. Owen, R. Park, B. Rush, L. Swanson, Y. Takahashi, D. Velez, K. Yetter, C. Thayer, C. Adam, P. Antreasian, J. Bauman, C. Bryan, B. Carcich, M. Corvin, J. Geeraert, J. Hoffman, J. M. Leonard, E. Lessac-Chenen, A. Levine, J. McAdams, L. McCarthy, D. Nelson, B. Page, J. Pelgrift, E. Sahr, K. Stakkestad, D. Stanbridge, D. Wibben, B. Williams, K. Williams, P. Wolff, P. Hayne, D. Kubitschek, M. A. Barucci, J. D. P. Deshapriya, S. Fornasier, M. Fulchignoni, P. Hasselmann, F. Merlin, A. Praet, E. B. Bierhaus, O. Billett, A. Boggs, B. Buck, S. Carlson-Kelly, J. Cerna, K. Chaffin, E. Church, M. Coltrin, J. Daly, A. Deguzman, R. Dubisher, D. Eckart, D. Ellis, P. Falkenstern, A. Fisher, M. E. Fisher, P. Fleming, K. Fortney, S. Francis, S. Freund, S. Gonzales, P. Haas, A. Hasten, D. Hauf, A. Hilbert, D. Howell, F. Jaen, N. Jayakody, M. Jenkins, K. Johnson, M. Lefevre, H. Ma, C. Mario, K. Martin, C. May, M. McGee, B. Miller, C. Miller, G. Miller, A. Mirfakhrai, E. Muhle, C. Norman, R. Olds, C. Parish, M. Ryle, M. Schmitzer, P. Sherman, M. Skeen, M. Susak, B. Sutter, Q. Tran, C. Welch, R. Witherspoon, J. Wood, J. Zareski, M. Arvizu-Jakubicki, E. Asphaug, E. Audi, R. L. Ballouz, R. Bandrowski, K. J. Becker, T. L. Becker, S. Bendall, C. A. Bennett, H. Bloomenthal, D. Blum, W. V. Boynton, J. Brodbeck, K. N. Burke, M. Chojnacki, A. Colpo, J. Contreras, J. Cutts, C. Y. Drouet d’Aubigny, D. Dean, D. N. DellaGiustina, B. Diallo, D. Drinnon, K. Drozd, H. L. Enos, R. Enos, C. Fellows, T. Ferro, M. R. Fisher, G. Fitzgibbon, M. Fitzgibbon, J. Forelli, T. Forrester, I. Galinsky, R. Garcia, A. Gardner, D. R. Golish, N. Habib, D. Hamara, D. Hammond, K. Hanley, K. Harshman, C. W. Hergenrother, K. Herzog, D. Hill, C. Hoekenga, S. Hooven, E. S. Howell, E. Huettner, A. Janakus, J. Jones, T. R. Kareta, J. Kidd, K. Kingsbury, S. S. Balram-Knutson, L. Koelbel and Osiris-REx Team The, Properties of rubble-pile asteroid (101955) Bennu from OSIRIS-REx imaging and thermal analysis. Nature Astronomy, 2019/03/19 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0731-1
  4. V. E. Hamilton, A. A. Simon, P. R. Christensen, D. C. Reuter, B. E. Clark, M. A. Barucci, N. E. Bowles, W. V. Boynton, J. R. Brucato, E. A. Cloutis, H. C. Connolly, K. L. Donaldson Hanna, J. P. Emery, H. L. Enos, S. Fornasier, C. W. Haberle, R. D. Hanna, E. S. Howell, H. H. Kaplan, L. P. Keller, C. Lantz, J. Y. Li, L. F. Lim, T. J. McCoy, F. Merlin, M. C. Nolan, A. Praet, B. Rozitis, S. A. Sandford, D. L. Schrader, C. A. Thomas, X. D. Zou, D. S. Lauretta, D. E. Highsmith, J. Small, D. Vokrouhlický, N. E. Bowles, E. Brown, K. L. Donaldson Hanna, T. Warren, C. Brunet, R. A. Chicoine, S. Desjardins, D. Gaudreau, T. Haltigin, S. Millington-Veloza, A. Rubi, J. Aponte, N. Gorius, A. Lunsford, B. Allen, J. Grindlay, D. Guevel, D. Hoak, J. Hong, D. L. Schrader, J. Bayron, O. Golubov, P. Sánchez, J. Stromberg, M. Hirabayashi, C. M. Hartzell, S. Oliver, M. Rascon, A. Harch, J. Joseph, S. Squyres, D. Richardson, J. P. Emery, L. McGraw, R. Ghent, R. P. Binzel, M. M. Al Asad, C. L. Johnson, L. Philpott, H. C. M. Susorney, E. A. Cloutis, R. D. Hanna, H. C. Connolly, F. Ciceri, A. R. Hildebrand, E. M. Ibrahim, L. Breitenfeld, T. Glotch, A. D. Rogers, B. E. Clark, S. Ferrone, C. A. Thomas, H. Campins, Y. Fernandez, W. Chang, A. Cheuvront, D. Trang, S. Tachibana, H. Yurimoto, J. R. Brucato, G. Poggiali, M. Pajola, E. Dotto, E. Mazzotta Epifani, M. K. Crombie, C. Lantz, M. R. M. Izawa, J. de Leon, J. Licandro, J. L. Rizos Garcia, S. Clemett, K. Thomas-Keprta, S. Van wal, M. Yoshikawa, J. Bellerose, S. Bhaskaran, C. Boyles, S. R. Chesley, C. M. Elder, D. Farnocchia, A. Harbison, B. Kennedy, A. Knight, N. Martinez-Vlasoff, N. Mastrodemos, T. McElrath, W. Owen, R. Park, B. Rush, L. Swanson, Y. Takahashi, D. Velez, K. Yetter, C. Thayer, C. Adam, P. Antreasian, J. Bauman, C. Bryan, B. Carcich, M. Corvin, J. Geeraert, J. Hoffman, J. M. Leonard, E. Lessac-Chenen, A. Levine, J. McAdams, L. McCarthy, D. Nelson, B. Page, J. Pelgrift, E. Sahr, K. Stakkestad, D. Stanbridge, D. Wibben, B. Williams, K. Williams, P. Wolff, P. Hayne, D. Kubitschek, M. A. Barucci, J. D. P. Deshapriya, S. Fornasier, M. Fulchignoni, P. Hasselmann, F. Merlin, A. Praet, E. B. Bierhaus, O. Billett, A. Boggs, B. Buck, S. Carlson-Kelly, J. Cerna, K. Chaffin, E. Church, M. Coltrin, J. Daly, A. Deguzman, R. Dubisher, D. Eckart, D. Ellis, P. Falkenstern, A. Fisher, M. E. Fisher, P. Fleming, K. Fortney, S. Francis, S. Freund, S. Gonzales, P. Haas, A. Hasten, D. Hauf, A. Hilbert, D. Howell, F. Jaen, N. Jayakody, M. Jenkins, K. Johnson, M. Lefevre, H. Ma, C. Mario, K. Martin, C. May, M. McGee, B. Miller, C. Miller, G. Miller, A. Mirfakhrai, E. Muhle, C. Norman, R. Olds, C. Parish, M. Ryle, M. Schmitzer, P. Sherman, M. Skeen, M. Susak, B. Sutter, Q. Tran, C. Welch, R. Witherspoon, J. Wood, J. Zareski, M. Arvizu-Jakubicki, E. Asphaug, E. Audi, R. L. Ballouz, R. Bandrowski, K. J. Becker, T. L. Becker, S. Bendall, C. A. Bennett, H. Bloomenthal, D. Blum, W. V. Boynton, J. Brodbeck, K. N. Burke, M. Chojnacki, A. Colpo, J. Contreras, J. Cutts, C. Y. Drouet d’Aubigny, D. Dean, D. N. DellaGiustina, B. Diallo, D. Drinnon, K. Drozd, H. L. Enos, R. Enos, C. Fellows, T. Ferro, M. R. Fisher, G. Fitzgibbon, M. Fitzgibbon, J. Forelli, T. Forrester, I. Galinsky, R. Garcia, A. Gardner, D. R. Golish, N. Habib, D. Hamara, D. Hammond, K. Hanley, K. Harshman, C. W. Hergenrother, K. Herzog, D. Hill, C. Hoekenga, S. Hooven, E. S. Howell, E. Huettner, A. Janakus, J. Jones, T. R. Kareta, J. Kidd, K. Kingsbury, S. S. Balram-Knutson, L. Koelbel, J. Kreiner, D. Lambert, D. S. Lauretta, C. Lewin, B. Lovelace, M. Loveridge, M. Lujan, C. K. Maleszewski, R. Malhotra, K. Marchese, E. McDonough, N. Mogk, V. Morrison, E. Morton, R. Munoz, J. Nelson, M. C. Nolan, J. Padilla, R. Pennington, A. Polit, N. Ramos, V. Reddy, M. Riehl, B. Rizk, H. L. Roper and Osiris-REx Team the, Evidence for widespread hydrated minerals on asteroid (101955) Bennu. Nature Astronomy, 2019/03/19 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0722-2
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  10. Paul Rincon, Psyche: Metal world mission targets ‘iron volcanoes’, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47559416
  11. D. J. Scheeres, J. W. McMahon, A. S. French, D. N. Brack, S. R. Chesley, D. Farnocchia, Y. Takahashi, J. M. Leonard, J. Geeraert, B. Page, P. Antreasian, K. Getzandanner, D. Rowlands, E. M. Mazarico, J. Small, D. E. Highsmith, M. Moreau, J. P. Emery, B. Rozitis, M. Hirabayashi, P. Sánchez, S. Van wal, P. Tricarico, R. L. Ballouz, C. L. Johnson, M. M. Al Asad, H. C. M. Susorney, O. S. Barnouin, M. G. Daly, J. A. Seabrook, R. W. Gaskell, E. E. Palmer, J. R. Weirich, K. J. Walsh, E. R. Jawin, E. B. Bierhaus, P. Michel, W. F. Bottke, M. C. Nolan, H. C. Connolly, D. S. Lauretta, D. E. Highsmith, J. Small, D. Vokrouhlický, N. E. Bowles, E. Brown, K. L. Donaldson Hanna, T. Warren, C. Brunet, R. A. Chicoine, S. Desjardins, D. Gaudreau, T. Haltigin, S. Millington-Veloza, A. Rubi, J. Aponte, N. Gorius, A. Lunsford, B. Allen, J. Grindlay, D. Guevel, D. Hoak, J. Hong, D. L. Schrader, J. Bayron, O. Golubov, P. Sánchez, J. Stromberg, M. Hirabayashi, C. M. Hartzell, S. Oliver, M. Rascon, A. Harch, J. Joseph, S. Squyres, D. Richardson, J. P. Emery, L. McGraw, R. Ghent, R. P. Binzel, M. M. Al Asad, C. L. Johnson, L. Philpott, H. C. M. Susorney, E. A. Cloutis, R. D. Hanna, H. C. Connolly, F. Ciceri, A. R. Hildebrand, E. M. Ibrahim, L. Breitenfeld, T. Glotch, A. D. Rogers, B. E. Clark, S. Ferrone, C. A. Thomas, H. Campins, Y. Fernandez, W. Chang, A. Cheuvront, D. Trang, S. Tachibana, H. Yurimoto, J. R. Brucato, G. Poggiali, M. Pajola, E. Dotto, E. Mazzotta Epifani, M. K. Crombie, C. Lantz, M. R. M. Izawa, J. de Leon, J. Licandro, J. L. Rizos Garcia, S. Clemett, K. Thomas-Keprta, S. Van wal, M. Yoshikawa, J. Bellerose, S. Bhaskaran, C. Boyles, S. R. Chesley, C. M. Elder, D. Farnocchia, A. Harbison, B. Kennedy, A. Knight, N. Martinez-Vlasoff, N. Mastrodemos, T. McElrath, W. Owen, R. Park, B. Rush, L. Swanson, Y. Takahashi, D. Velez, K. Yetter, C. Thayer, C. Adam, P. Antreasian, J. Bauman, C. Bryan, B. Carcich, M. Corvin, J. Geeraert, J. Hoffman, J. M. Leonard, E. Lessac-Chenen, A. Levine, J. McAdams, L. McCarthy, D. Nelson, B. Page, J. Pelgrift, E. Sahr, K. Stakkestad, D. Stanbridge, D. Wibben, B. Williams, K. Williams, P. Wolff, P. Hayne, D. Kubitschek, M. A. Barucci, J. D. P. Deshapriya, S. Fornasier, M. Fulchignoni, P. Hasselmann, F. Merlin, A. Praet, E. B. Bierhaus, O. Billett, A. Boggs, B. Buck, S. Carlson-Kelly, J. Cerna, K. Chaffin, E. Church, M. Coltrin, J. Daly, A. Deguzman, R. Dubisher, D. Eckart, D. Ellis, P. Falkenstern, A. Fisher, M. E. Fisher, P. Fleming, K. Fortney, S. Francis, S. Freund, S. Gonzales, P. Haas, A. Hasten, D. Hauf, A. Hilbert, D. Howell, F. Jaen, N. Jayakody, M. Jenkins, K. Johnson, M. Lefevre, H. Ma, C. Mario, K. Martin, C. May, M. McGee, B. Miller, C. Miller, G. Miller, A. Mirfakhrai, E. Muhle, C. Norman, R. Olds, C. Parish, M. Ryle, M. Schmitzer, P. Sherman, M. Skeen, M. Susak, B. Sutter, Q. Tran, C. Welch, R. Witherspoon, J. Wood, J. Zareski, M. Arvizu-Jakubicki, E. Asphaug, E. Audi, R. L. Ballouz, R. Bandrowski, K. J. Becker, T. L. Becker, S. Bendall, C. A. Bennett, H. Bloomenthal, D. Blum, W. V. Boynton, J. Brodbeck, K. N. Burke, M. Chojnacki, A. Colpo, J. Contreras, J. Cutts, C. Y. Drouet d’Aubigny, D. Dean, D. N. DellaGiustina, B. Diallo, D. Drinnon, K. Drozd, H. L. Enos, R. Enos, C. Fellows, T. Ferro, M. R. Fisher, G. Fitzgibbon, M. Fitzgibbon, J. Forelli, T. Forrester, I. Galinsky, R. Garcia, A. Gardner, D. R. Golish, N. Habib, D. Hamara, D. Hammond, K. Hanley, K. Harshman, C. W. Hergenrother, K. Herzog, D. Hill, C. Hoekenga, S. Hooven, E. S. Howell, E. Huettner, A. Janakus, J. Jones, T. R. Kareta, J. Kidd, K. Kingsbury, S. S. Balram-Knutson, L. Koelbel, J. Kreiner, D. Lambert, D. S. Lauretta, C. Lewin, B. Lovelace, M. Loveridge, M. Lujan, C. K. Maleszewski, R. Malhotra, K. Marchese, E. McDonough, N. Mogk, V. Morrison, E. Morton, R. Munoz, J. Nelson, M. C. Nolan and Osiris-REx Team The, The dynamic geophysical environment of (101955) Bennu based on OSIRIS-REx measurements. Nature Astronomy, 2019/03/19 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-019-0721-3
  12. S. Sugita, R. Honda, T. Morota, S. Kameda, H. Sawada, E. Tatsumi, M. Yamada, C. Honda, Y. Yokota, T. Kouyama, N. Sakatani, K. Ogawa, H. Suzuki, T. Okada, N. Namiki, S. Tanaka, Y. Iijima, K. Yoshioka, M. Hayakawa, Y. Cho, M. Matsuoka, N. Hirata, N. Hirata, H. Miyamoto, D. Domingue, M. Hirabayashi, T. Nakamura, T. Hiroi, T. Michikami, P. Michel, R. L. Ballouz, O. S. Barnouin, C. M. Ernst, S. E. Schröder, H. Kikuchi, R. Hemmi, G. Komatsu, T. Fukuhara, M. Taguchi, T. Arai, H. Senshu, H. Demura, Y. Ogawa, Y. Shimaki, T. Sekiguchi, T. G. Müller, A. Hagermann, T. Mizuno, H. Noda, K. Matsumoto, R. Yamada, Y. Ishihara, H. Ikeda, H. Araki, K. Yamamoto, S. Abe, F. Yoshida, A. Higuchi, S. Sasaki, S. Oshigami, S. Tsuruta, K. Asari, S. Tazawa, M. Shizugami, J. Kimura, T. Otsubo, H. Yabuta, S. Hasegawa, M. Ishiguro, S. Tachibana, E. Palmer, R. Gaskell, L. Le Corre, R. Jaumann, K. Otto, N. Schmitz, P. A. Abell, M. A. Barucci, M. E. Zolensky, F. Vilas, F. Thuillet, C. Sugimoto, N. Takaki, Y. Suzuki, H. Kamiyoshihara, M. Okada, K. Nagata, M. Fujimoto, M. Yoshikawa, Y. Yamamoto, K. Shirai, R. Noguchi, N. Ogawa, F. Terui, S. Kikuchi, T. Yamaguchi, Y. Oki, Y. Takao, H. Takeuchi, G. Ono, Y. Mimasu, K. Yoshikawa, T. Takahashi, Y. Takei, A. Fujii, C. Hirose, S. Nakazawa, S. Hosoda, O. Mori, T. Shimada, S. Soldini, T. Iwata, M. Abe, H. Yano, R. Tsukizaki, M. Ozaki, K. Nishiyama, T. Saiki, S. Watanabe and Y. Tsuda, The geomorphology, color, and thermal properties of Ryugu: Implications for parent-body processes. Science:eaaw0422, 2019. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/03/18/science.aaw0422.abstract
  13. S. Watanabe, M. Hirabayashi, N. Hirata, N. Hirata, R. Noguchi, Y. Shimaki, H. Ikeda, E. Tatsumi, M. Yoshikawa, S. Kikuchi, H. Yabuta, T. Nakamura, S. Tachibana, Y. Ishihara, T. Morota, K. Kitazato, N. Sakatani, K. Matsumoto, K. Wada, H. Senshu, C. Honda, T. Michikami, H. Takeuchi, T. Kouyama, R. Honda, S. Kameda, T. Fuse, H. Miyamoto, G. Komatsu, S. Sugita, T. Okada, N. Namiki, M. Arakawa, M. Ishiguro, M. Abe, R. Gaskell, E. Palmer, O. S. Barnouin, P. Michel, A. S. French, J. W. McMahon, D. J. Scheeres, P. A. Abell, Y. Yamamoto, S. Tanaka, K. Shirai, M. Matsuoka, M. Yamada, Y. Yokota, H. Suzuki, K. Yoshioka, Y. Cho, S. Tanaka, N. Nishikawa, T. Sugiyama, H. Kikuchi, R. Hemmi, T. Yamaguchi, N. Ogawa, G. Ono, Y. Mimasu, K. Yoshikawa, T. Takahashi, Y. Takei, A. Fujii, C. Hirose, T. Iwata, M. Hayakawa, S. Hosoda, O. Mori, H. Sawada, T. Shimada, S. Soldini, H. Yano, R. Tsukizaki, M. Ozaki, Y. Iijima, K. Ogawa, M. Fujimoto, T. M. Ho, A. Moussi, R. Jaumann, J. P. Bibring, C. Krause, F. Terui, T. Saiki, S. Nakazawa, and Y. Tsuda, Hayabusa2 arrives at the carbonaceous asteroid 162173 Ryugu—A spinning top–shaped rubble pile. Science:eaav8032, 2019. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/03/18/science.aav8032.abstract
  14. Alexandra Witze, Asteroid’s bumpiness threatens US plan to return a sample to Earth, in Nature – News. 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00859-7

 

Pix From Asteroid Ryugu!

A couple of weeks ago the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft swooped in and gathered its first sample from the Asteroid Ryugu.

This week JAXA released a series of images arranged into a little movie showing the actual sample.

Aha!  Now I finally get what they are doing.  The spacecraft swooped in and just before landing shot out the projectile.  The impact blasted material up off the surface and into the scoop on the spacecraft.  It also pushed the spacecraft off, starting the acceleration back into orbit.  Cool!

The commentaries indicate that they were within a fe meters of the intended target.  Good enough, though the surface is rocky enough that precision is really important, lest they hit a boulder.

This maneuver will be repeated twice more, and then the craft will return home with the samples.

Well done!


  1. Jason Davis, Watch Hayabusa2’s incredible touchdown on asteroid Ryugu, in Planetary Society – Blogs – Jason Davis. 2019. http://www.planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis/hayabusa2-touchdown-video.html
  2. Paul Rincon, Hayabusa-2: Movie shows moment of asteroid landing, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47459248

 

Space Saturday

Tiny T rex Relative

I love dinosaurs. All kinds of dinosaurs.  (Yes, I know that a lot of the critters aren’t technically “dinosaurs”, but that’s not the point, is it?)

And, of all the dinosaurs, there is only one king, Rexie, Tyrannosaurus Rex.

In recent decades, we have learned a lot about the T. rex family. We know a lot of cousins, larger and smaller, in various locations.  Some have argued that T. rex was a scavenger rather than a hunter. (I doubt that,)   There is debatable evidence that they had feathers or feathery fuzz or feathery fringe. (This seems to be in dispute.)

The fossil record is much richer, but it is still sparse.  Which means that every year there will be something new discovered.

This winter a team of researchers report a new find from Utah (a veritable happy hunting ground for dinosaurs) [2]. The fossil is described as Moros intrepidus, an ancestor of T. rex.

There are two interesting things about this animal. First, it is relatively small, about 1 meter tall.  “Deer sized”.  Not exactly “tyrannosaurian”.

Artwork: Tyrannosaurs were generally small early on in their evolution Credit Jorge Gonzalez / Lindsay Zanno [from [1])
The second is that the animal lived around the beginning of the Cretaceous period.  T. rex and cousins thrived as large, apex predators at the end of the Cretaceous, “appearing suddenly” at that time.  There are smaller ancestors of T. rex from the late Jurassic found in China, but in North America there was a 70 million year gap in the family history.

This new species is in that gap, Combined with other evidence, it looks like tyrannosaurs were small predators for millions of years, during time other species were larger and fiercer apex predators.  The family survived the Jurassic Cretaceous events, and much later rapidly evolved and radiated to become the quintessential apex predator on land.

We still don’t know exactly what happened with tyrannosaurs during the Cretaceous, but it looks like the timing is becoming clearer.  The authors note that this period was characterized by evolutionary radiation across the northern hemisphere, and a suspected “temperature maximum”.  It is possible that there was a significant climate change that led to drought and other disasters that killed a lot of dinosaurs including the top predators.  Which made room for T. rex to grow into.


  1. Paul Rincon, Teeny T. rex relative discovered in US, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47321411
  2. Lindsay E. Zanno, Ryan T. Tucker, Aurore Canoville, Haviv M. Avrahami, Terry A. Gates, and Peter J. Makovicky, Diminutive fleet-footed tyrannosauroid narrows the 70-million-year gap in the North American fossil record. Communications Biology, 2 (1):64, 2019/02/21 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-019-0308-7

Dinosaur blubber!

As I have remarked many times, back when I was a young dinosaur enthusiast, we learned that we could never know much about the soft parts of ancient animals. Only bones and occasional imprints would be preserved in fossils, we were told.

Well, these days we are recovering many, many traces of flesh, skin, and feathers, and learning all kinds of things such as what color these ancient animals actually were.  Whoa!

This winter there is yet another wonderful find, this time the skin and tissue of a Jurassic ichthyosaur.  These animals visibly resemble porpoises and other whales, suggesting the results of convergent evolution toward highly optimized ocean swimmers.

The newly examined fossil contained traces of the skin and flesh of the animal, which strongly resemble the scaleless skin and blubber found in contemporary whales.  As the researchers say, the resemblance to whales “resemblance is more than skin deep “ ([1], p. 1)

In contemporary animals, insulating blubber is a “a hallmark of warm-blooded marine amniotes”, so this study provides the first direct evidence that these animals were warm blooded like whales.

The study also detected pigments indicating dark skin on the back (toward the surface).  This might have been camouflage and or might have contributed to thermoregulation.  The camouflage might protect against “flying pterosaurs, attacking from above, and pliosaurs (even bigger marine reptiles), which would have attacked from below”. It’s not easy being  an ichthyosaur!

The fossil belongs to a type of ichthyosaur called Stenopterygius . Credit: Science Photo Library Image

Overall, the fossil remains are quite similar to contemporary whales and sea turtles. These species are only distantly related, so this is a pretty clear case of convergent evolution.

Cool!


  1. Johan Lindgren, Peter Sjövall, Volker Thiel, Wenxia Zheng, Shosuke Ito, Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Rolf Hauff, Benjamin P. Kear, Anders Engdahl, Carl Alwmark, Mats E. Eriksson, Martin Jarenmark, Sven Sachs, Per E. Ahlberg, Federica Marone, Takeo Kuriyama, Ola Gustafsson, Per Malmberg, Aurélien Thomen, Irene Rodríguez-Meizoso, Per Uvdal, Makoto Ojika, and Mary H. Schweitzer, Soft-tissue evidence for homeothermy and crypsis in a Jurassic ichthyosaur. Nature, 2018/12/05 2018. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0775-x
  2. Paul Rincon, Fossil preserves ‘sea monster’ blubber and skin, in BBC News- Science & Environment. 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46457674

Good names for a band:

Fossil blubber
Jurassic ichthyosaur

 

 

NASA Asteroid Mission On Approach

With Hayabusa-2 on station and preparing to drop a series of landers on asteroid Ryugu [2], NASA’s own asteroid return mission is approaching its target, asteroid Bennu [1].

We’ll get the landings from Hayabusa-2 later this year, just about the time as OSIRIS-Rex arrives in early December. If all goes well, Hayabusa-2 will return samples to Earth in 2020,  just around the time that OSIRIS-Rex starts swooping in to scoop up samples, to return them to Earth by 2023.

Personally, I’m not especially interested in Asteroids (especially compared to Ice Moons), but these missions are pretty cool.  I mean, robotic motherships deploying landers have a huge ‘coolness’ multiplier!  (And Hayabusa-2 features some extreme, mythbusters-style science!)

NASA has a nice post explaining “Why Bennu? 10 Reasons” [3]. Bennu is close, it’s “old”, yet probably well preserved.  So it is good value for the effort.

Most interesting to me is the Yarkovsky effect. Which I hadn’t heard of it at all, but is admirably weird and cool!

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

We’ve all been waiting a long time for asteroid missions, and its finally happening.


  1. NASA. OSIRIS Rex. 2018, https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex.
  2. Paul Rincon, Hayabusa-2: Japan sets date for spacecraft’s asteroid touchdown, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2018. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45363130
  3. Lonnie Shekhtman, Why Bennu? 10 Reasons in NASA Science – Solar System Exploration. 2018. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/517/why-bennu-10-reasons/

 

(Space) Robot Wednesday