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Conjunction Great

The Great Conjunction of 2020: Jupiter and Saturn sky show this fall – Minnesota Public Radio News

Southern evening sky in late September

Southern evening sky in late September

NASA via earthsky.org

There’s a spectacular sky show in the southern sky this fall.

It’s called the Great Conjunction. Saturn and Jupiter are bright in the southern sky on clear evenings. The waxing moon adds to the show tonight hanging to the lower left of Saturn.

Southern sky for the evening of September 25, 2src2src

Southern sky for the evening of Sept. 25, 2020

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earthsky.org elaborates:

On September 23, 24, 25 and 26, 2020, look for the moon in the evening sky, and it’ll guide you to Jupiter and Saturn, our solar system’s two biggest gas giant planets. Given clear skies, you can’t miss these bright worlds. The moon is the second-brightest celestial object, after the sun. And Jupiter is exceptionally bright, too, outshining all the stars (but just a hair less bright than dazzling Mars; more about Mars below). As for Saturn, it’s as bright as the brightest stars. Plus Jupiter and Saturn are noticeable now for their nearness to each other. They’re headed for a great conjunction before 2020 ends.

The Great Conjunction of December 2020

Jupiter and Saturn are 7.5 degrees apart in the southern sky now. They will draw closer this fall and will be just 0.1 degrees apart on the winter solstice on December 21.

Astro Bob writes for the Duluth News Tribune about how the two planets draw closer until conjunction on December 21.

More distant Saturn orbits at 21,675 mph (9.7 km/sec) and takes 29 years to circle the sun. Because Jupiter is both closer to the Earth and travels faster it overtakes Saturn about once every 20 years, an event called a great conjunction.

Because the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn are tilted slightly with respect to Earth’s orbit, 1.3° and 2.5° respectively, when they do line up the distance between them varies, making every conjunction different. If they were in exactly the same plane Jupiter would always pass directly in front of Saturn, but that’s extremely rare.

Enjoy the amazing sky show on clear evenings this fall.

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Great Jupiter's

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot stars in gorgeous new Hubble telescope view – CNET

The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this gorgeous look at Jupiter and its moon Europa in August 2020.


NASA, ESA, A. Simon (NASA/GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team

Jupiter is nothing like Earth. The gas giant’s swirling, tumultuous atmosphere is riddled with wild storms. The planet’s colorful cloud bands stand out in a striking fresh Hubble Space Telescope image captured on Aug. 25.

The view from 406 million miles (650 million kilometers) away is beautifully crisp thanks to Hubble’s keen eye. The telescope is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency.  

From the lab to your inbox. Get the latest science stories from CNET every week.

Scientists are particularly excited about a fast-moving new storm that erupted in mid-August. It shows up as a bright white area towards the upper left of the planet. NASA said “the timing of the Hubble observations is perfect for showing the structure in the wake of the disturbance, during the early stages of its evolution.”

If you look closely, you can also see Jupiter’s fascinating moon Europa in the dark off to the left. NASA is developing a mission to visit the icy world, which could be a prime spot to check for alien life.

Jaw-dropping Jupiter: NASA’s Juno mission eyes the gas giant


See all photos

Hubble’s Jupiter portrait highlights the planet’s most famous feature. “The iconic Great Red Spot, a storm big enough to swallow Earth, shows that it’s shrinking a little in the Hubble images, but it still dominates the entire southern atmosphere, plowing through the clouds like a cargo ship,” said NASA in a release on Thursday.   

Research shows the Great Red Spot is getting smaller, and the cause of the size change is unknown. Scientists still expect it will hang around for years, and hopefully for more Hubble portraits like this one. The space telescope has seen its share of technical glitches, but has never surrendered.

See also: These telescopes work with your phone to show exactly what’s in the sky

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Great Jupiter's

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot stars in new Hubble view of planet’s crazy storms – CNET

The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this gorgeous look at Jupiter and its moon Europa in August 2020.


NASA, ESA, A. Simon (NASA/GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team

Jupiter is nothing like Earth. The swirling, tumultuous atmosphere of the gas giant is riddled with wild storms. The planet’s colorful cloud bands stand out in a fresh Hubble Space Telescope image captured on Aug. 25.

The view from 406 million miles (650 million kilometers) away is beautifully crisp thanks to Hubble’s keen eye. The telescope is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency.  

From the lab to your inbox. Get the latest science stories from CNET every week.

Scientists are particularly excited about a fast-moving new storm that erupted in mid-August. It shows up as a bright white area towards the upper left of the planet. NASA said “the timing of the Hubble observations is perfect for showing the structure in the wake of the disturbance, during the early stages of its evolution.”

If you look closely, you can also see Jupiter’s fascinating moon Europa in the dark off to the left. NASA is developing a mission to visit the icy world, which could be a prime spot to check for alien life.

Jaw-dropping Jupiter: NASA’s Juno mission eyes the gas giant


See all photos

Hubble’s Jupiter portrait highlights the planet’s most famous feature. “The iconic Great Red Spot, a storm big enough to swallow Earth, shows that it’s shrinking a little in the Hubble images, but it still dominates the entire southern atmosphere, plowing through the clouds like a cargo ship,” said NASA in a release on Thursday.   

Research shows the Great Red Spot is getting smaller, and the cause of the size change is unknown. Scientists still expect it will hang around for years, and hopefully for more Hubble portraits like this one. The space telescope has seen its share of technical glitches, but has never surrendered.

See also: These telescopes work with your phone to show exactly what’s in the sky

Read More

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Friend Great

‘Great friend’: World leaders react to Japan PM Abe’s resignation – Al Jazeera English

Japan’s Shinzo Abe, the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, has announced he will step down from his post due to health reasons.

Abe, who turns 66 next month, has suffered from ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager.

The chronic condition is thought to be aggravated by stress.

Here is what some international leaders are saying about his decision to resign:

US President Donald Trump

“I want to pay my highest respect to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe … a great friend of mine. I just feel very badly about it.”

Trump said Abe loved his country very much, adding that he planned to call the Japanese leader.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian

“In recent years, the relationship between China and Japan has returned to the right track and achieved new developments … We express a positive assessment of the important efforts made by Prime Minister Abe to achieve these ends and at the same time wish him a speedy recovery.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson 

“Abe Shinzo has achieved great things as PM of Japan – for his country and the world. Under his stewardship, the UK-Japan relationship has gone from strength to strength in trade, defence and our cultural links. Thank you for all your years of service and I wish you good health.”

.@AbeShinzo has achieved great things as PM of Japan – for his country and the world. Under his stewardship the UK-Japan relationship has gone from strength to strength in trade, defence and our cultural links. Thank you for all your years of service and I wish you good health.

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 28, 2020

German Chancellor Angela Merkel 

“I regret his resignation and wish him all the very best. We worked very well together.”

Russia

The Kremlin regrets that Prime Minister Abe has decided to step down, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, describing the working relations between Abe and President Vladimir Putin as “brilliant”.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen 

“Prime Minister Abe was always friendly to Taiwan, whether on policy or the rights and interests of Taiwan’s people – he was extremely positive. We value his friendly feelings towards Taiwan and hope he is healthy.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

“Prime Minister Abe struck me as a person of great integrity. He has led by example and showed what hard work, passion, and care for others can achieve.

“There is much Japan and New Zealand see eye to eye on. Our shared commitment to democracy and the rules-based international system makes Japan an important partner for New Zealand, especially in the Indo-Pacific region where we share common goals.”

South Korea presidential spokesman Kang Min-Seok 

“We regret the sudden resignation announcement of Prime Minister Abe, who has left many meaningful achievements as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, and has also especially played a large role for development in South Korea and Japan’s bilateral relations.

“We wish the prime minister a quick recovery. Our government will continue cooperation with the new prime minister and the new cabinet for improved ties with Japan.”

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Great Mysteries

3 Great Mysteries About Life on Mars – The New York Times

Mars is the most explored planet in the solar system other than Earth. With all of our robotic visitors there, we’ve discovered that it is a world far too dry, cold and irradiated to support the scheming humanoids or tentacled invaders once imagined by science fiction.

But our trips to Mars have opened a window into the deep past of the red planet, when conditions were far more conducive to life.

This summer, NASA will launch its latest rover, Perseverance, on a seventh-month journey to Mars. Like its predecessor, Curiosity, Perseverance will touch down in the remains of an ancient Martian lake bed. What it finds there — along with missions launched by China and the United Arab Emirates — could help us Earthlings understand what Mars was like as a young planet some four billion years ago, and whether life ever blossomed on its surface.

It’s a serene image: A river flowing into an expansive lake that fills a crater basin. Waves lapping at the shoreline; sediment piling into a delta. A lake bed caked with clay.

This is the type of aquatic environment that might support life, and it was once a familiar sight on Mars.

“The evidence for the lakes and rivers is incontrovertible,” said Ken Farley, project scientist on Perseverance and a geochemist at the California Institute of Technology.

Although Mars was once a wet planet, there is substantial debate about the origins, extent and life span of its long-lost bodies of water.

For instance, early Mars might have been warmed by the gassy belches of active volcanoes, which thickened its atmosphere and caused Martian permafrost to melt. Cataclysmic asteroid impacts might have also unleashed 900-foot mega-tsunamis that flooded the planet’s terrain. There’s even disputed evidence that an ocean once covered its northern lowlands.

“Was it weird, short, transient events, or was there an ocean?” Dr. Farley said. “I would say there’s no consensus. There’s a lot of ideas out there, and we really need a lot more data to sort it out.”

One major question concerns the longevity of Mars’ liquid water. Nobody knows how much time is required for life to emerge on a planet, including on Earth. But the odds of life forming get better the longer that stable bodies of water persist.

During Curiosity’s eight-year journey across Gale Crater, an ancient lake bed, the rover discovered sediments that suggest water was present for at least a few million years. Curiosity also detected organic compounds, key ingredients for life as we know it.

“What we’ve learned from Curiosity suggests that Mars was habitable,” said Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California, Davis, and a member of the Curiosity science team.

Image

Credit…Miguel Porlan

Of course, “habitable” does not necessarily mean “inhabited.” The surface of Mars is exposed to damaging solar and cosmic radiation, which could have reduced the odds of complex, multicellular life ever forming.

“If life did exist on Mars, there would be a strong evolutionary force toward being resistant to radiation,” Dr. Sumner said.

There are microbial extremophiles on Earth that can endure intense radiation, often healing their own DNA on the fly. So it’s not far-fetched to imagine that there might be Martian microbes that could tolerate an onslaught of radiation. Plus, they may have been able to retreat underground if conditions became particularly hostile at the surface.

“The big lesson about life, from the revolution of being able to use DNA, is life is able to go everywhere,” Dr. Farley said. “It is amazing. It will fill every niche it can get itself into, and it will do it in a relatively short period of time.”

The bygone oases of Mars are now mirages of a distant past, and modern Mars is a dried-up husk. Earth, in contrast, has been habitable to microbes for most of its life span and has positively burst at the seams with biodiversity for eons. Why did these sibling worlds experience such different outcomes?

As baby planets, Mars and Earth were each swaddled in two protective blankets: a relatively thick atmosphere and a strong magnetic field. Earth has held on to both comforts. Mars has neither.

Mars mysteriously lost its magnetic mojo billions of years ago. With no magnetic sheath to protect it from solar wind, the Martian atmosphere was stripped away over time, though it still maintains a thin shell of its past skies.

Image

Credit…Miguel Porlan

These changes have left Mars relatively inert for billions of years, while Earth reinvents itself through tectonic activity, atmospheric shifts and the ingenuity of life.

This is great news for Earthlings, as we need those processes to survive. Yet the sheer deadness of Mars over the past few billion years could make it easier to reconstruct its early history.

“Life has been so successful on Earth that it’s hard to trace back its origin,” Dr. Sumner said. “On Earth, everything is covered with organic matter from modern life.”

“One of the really cool and exciting things about Mars is that, because it doesn’t have plate tectonics, large parts of its surface have these super-old rocks,” she continued. “It’s a good place to go to try to understand what an early planet would be like.”

Robot explorers on Mars have turned up countless insights about the red planet, but they have never found clear-cut signs of creatures currently residing there. Life, at least as we know it on Earth, simply does not seem probable on the Martian surface.

“If there’s any life on Mars now, it needs at least some liquid water,” Dr. Sumner said. “The surface of Mars now is very dry. Just incredibly dry. If there’s life on Mars now, it would be in the deep subsurface.”

There’s some evidence that liquid water is locked away in subterranean reservoirs, so perhaps there are sunless ecosystems lurking there. If these habitats exist, they are beyond the direct reach of our rovers and landers.

Recent detections of methane and other gases in what’s left of Mars’ atmosphere are “a tantalizing potential signature,” Dr. Farley said, bolstering speculation about subterranean Martians. Many microbes on Earth produce methane, so it is possible that whiffs of the gas on Mars could be traced to alien life-forms deep underground.

Curiosity, which is equipped with a methane-sensitive spectrometer, has compounded the mystery by recording weird spikes of the gas at the Martian surface that remain unexplained.

Unfortunately, the satellites orbiting the red planet have not been able to provide backup for these readings, and the new NASA and Chinese rovers on the red planet may not be able to solve the puzzle.

Methane can also be created by a wide range of natural processes that have nothing to do with life. Some experts, like Dr. Sumner, say that the presence of the gas on Mars is “not a surprise” because it has all the geological processes it needs to produce the gas without life.

The discovery of life on Mars, either in the form of ancient fossils or subterranean reservoirs, would be one of the most momentous breakthroughs in human history. At last, we would have another example of a living planet, even if it only flourished in the past, implying that, at the very least, life can strike twice in the universe.

But even if we never find Martians, “Mars is a place we can go to answer some of the questions about life on Earth,” Dr. Sumner said. The red planet remains an eerie time capsule of the era when life first sprouted on our own world, and the direction it could have gone had all the factors that made our world possible not turned out just the right way.

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