Between a once-in-a-lifetime comet and a near-miss with an extremely close asteroid, 2020 has been a strange year for outer space. This October is no exception, bringing a rare blue moon just in time for Halloween.
As some trick-or-treaters stay indoors due to coronavirus safety concerns, October will feature not one but two full moons — a phenomenon known as a “blue moon” — which occurs about once every two and a half years, according to NASA.
Blue moons occur because the lunar cycle and the calendar year are not perfectly synced. Full moons come every 29 days, while most months are 30 or 31 days. The Americas last saw a blue moon in March 2018.
The first full moon of the month is coming on October 1. This year, it’s known as the Harvest moon, because it is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox.
The second full moon peaks at 10:49 a.m. ET on October 31, creating a spooky backdrop for an unusual Halloween. According to Farmer’s Almanac, the last Halloween full moon occurred in 2001, but only for central and pacific time zones.
This year marks the first time a Halloween full moon has been visible in all time zones since 1944 — meaning every person around the world will experience the Halloween blue moon together for the first time since World War II.
This moon is also known as the Hunter’s moon, which is the first moon following the harvest moon. It was likely named for the time of year to go hunting in preparation for winter. Other names include the Blood moon, Sanguine moon, Travel moon and Dying Grass moon.
Unfortunately, it won’t actually appear blue — the date of a full moon does not affect the moon’s color. But wildfires can affect the moon’s color, so it is possible that skywatchers in the western U.S. may see either a blue blue moon or a red blue moon next month.
After successfully fighting off Magic Leap’s claim that it stole trade secrets, Nreal is finally able to launch its Light mixed reality glasses into the consumer market. Starting today, folks in Korea can pre-order the Light — locally rebranded as “U+ Real Glass” — as part of a mobile phone plan on the LG Uplus network, so long as you pick the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 or the LG Velvet as your handset. That way you can buy the Light at a subsidized price of 349,500 won (about $295). You can also purchase the glasses separately for 699,000 won (about $590) at an LG Uplus store from August 21st, if you’d rather use them with other phones.
Since Nreal designed the Light with 5G smartphones in mind, this consumer kit lacks the Toast computing unit we saw in earlier demos. What do you gain, however, is a “VR Cover” that blocks out your view of the outside world, thus converting the Light into makeshift VR glasses. They won’t replace dedicated VR headsets given their 52-degree diagonal field of view (it’s the same figure for Microsoft’s enterprise-centric Hololens 2), while most VR headsets exceed 100 degrees here, but it’s still a nice bonus feature for when you want to immerse yourself into games or video.
Ultraviolet light has been used to stop pathogens in their tracks for decades. But does it work against SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the pandemic?
The short answer is yes. But it takes the right kind of UV in the right dosage, a complex operation that is best administered by trained professionals. In other words, many at-home UV-light devices claiming to kill SARS-CoV-2 likely aren’t a safe bet.
UV radiation can be classified into three types based on wavelength: UVA, UVB and UVC. Nearly all the UV radiation that reaches Earth is UVA, because most of UVB and all of UVC light is absorbed by the ozone layer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s UVC, which has the shortest wavelength and the highest energy, that can act as a disinfectant.
“UVC has been used for years, it’s not new,” Indermeet Kohli, a physicist who studies photomedicine in dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, told Live Science. UVC at a specific wavelength, 254 nanometers, has been successfully used to inactivate H1N1 influenza and other coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory virus (SARS-CoV) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), she said. A study published June 26 to the preprint database medRxiv from Kohli’s colleagues awaiting peer review now confirms that UVC also eliminates SARS-CoV-2.
UVC-254 works because this wavelength causes lesions in DNA and RNA. Enough exposure to UVC-254 damages the DNA and RNA so that they can’t replicate, effectively killing or inactivating a microorganism or virus.
“The data that backs up this technology, the ease of use, and the non-contact nature” of UVC make it a valuable tool amid the pandemic, Kohli said. But responsible, accurate use is critical. UVC’s DNA-damaging capabilities make it extremely dangerous to human skin and eyes, Kohli said. She cautioned that UVC disinfection technologies should primarily be left to medical facilities and evaluated for safety and efficacy by teams with expertise in photomedicine and photobiology.
When it comes to a-home UVC lamps, their ability to damage skin and eyes isn’t the only danger, Dr. Jacob Scott, a research physician in the Department of Translational Hematology and Oncology Research at Cleveland Clinic, said. These devices also have low quality control, which means there’s no guarantee that you’re actually eliminating the pathogen, he said.
“UVC does kill the virus, period, but the issue is you have to get enough dose,” Scott told Live Science. “Particularly, for N95 masks, which are porous, it takes a pretty big dose” of UVC-254 nm to eliminate SARS-CoV-2. This kind of accuracy isn’t possible with at-home devices.
In hospitals, the geometry of the room, shadowing, timing and the type of material or object being disinfected are all accounted for when experts determine the right dosage of UVC needed to kill pathogens. But that kind of “quality assurance is really hard out in the world, out in the wild,” Scott said. At-home devices don’t offer that kind of precision, so using them could offer a false assurance that SARS-CoV-2 has been eliminated when it hasn’t, he noted. “Having something you think is clean, but it’s not, is worse than something that you know is dirty” because it affects your behavior toward that object, he said.
Both Kohli and Scott and their teams are working to make UVC disinfection of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and N95 respirators, more efficient. Kohli’s group advises hospitals and vendors repurposing existing UVC equipment for N95 respirator decontamination. Scott’s group developeda machine that can be used by smaller medical facilities and a software program that helps users factor in the geometry of the disinfection room so that staff can deliver the most effective dose of UVC.
There are ongoing conversations in the field about installing UVC units in ceilings to decontaminate circulating air, Kohli said. And others are researching another wavelength of UVC called UVC-222 or Far-UVC, which may not damage human cells, she added. But that will require more research, Kohli said. Still, it’s clear that “used accurately and responsibly, UVC has enormous potential.”
This animated GIF shows a successful test of the parachute that will be used to land NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. The images were taken on Sept. 7, 2018, during the third and final flight of the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) project. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The agency’s new Mars rover is put through a series of tests in vacuum chambers, acoustic chambers and more to get ready for the Red Planet.
While auto manufacturers built over 92 million motor vehicles for this world in 2019, NASA built just one for Mars. The Perseverance Mars rover is one of a kind, and the testing required to get it ready to roll on the mean (and unpaved) streets of the Red Planet is one of a kind as well.
Because hardware cannot be repaired once the rover is on Mars, the team has to build a vehicle that can survive for years on a planet with punishing temperature shifts, constant radiation and ever-present dust. To ensure readiness, they put Perseverance through a test program tougher than the trip to Mars and the environment it will encounter once there.
This video highlights some of the tests NASA’s Perseverance rover completed between September and December 2019 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
“Mars is hard, and everybody knows that,” said project manager John McNamee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “What they may not realize is that to be successful at Mars, you have to test the absolute heck out of the thing here on Earth.”
While the unique tests performed for the project number in the thousands, here’s a handful that stand out.
The spacecraft that will carry NASA’s Perseverance rover to Mars is examined prior to an acoustic test in the Environmental Test Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The image was taken on April 11, 2019. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Sound and Fury
It is no secret that loud noises can be detrimental to your hearing. They can also be detrimental to a spacecraft, at least when they’re at the level encountered atop the launch vehicle during liftoff. Those punishing decibels can actually cause parts and components to come loose.
Long before the rover was shipped to Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for this summer’s launch, engineers put it in a special chamber at JPL and, using nitrogen-charged speakers, blasted away at it with random waves of sound as high as about 143 decibels – louder than what you’d encounter standing behind a roaring jet engine. On several occasions during the daylong acoustical test, they halted to inspect the rover and its surroundings, looking for anything that might have loosened, broken or fallen off. Some fasteners attaching spacecraft components had to be tightened and a few electrical cables replaced, but the mission team came away with increased confidence that while Perseverance will certainly be shaken during launch, nothing should stir.
Ask any member of the Mars 2020 mission’s entry, descent and landing team, and they’ll tell you there’s little point in traveling through 314 million miles (505 million kilometers) of interplanetary space if you can’t stick the landing. At 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) in diameter, the rover’s supersonic parachute has everything to do with making that happen. A lot of work goes into ensuring a chute deploys right and can do the job without shredding or getting tangled.
Perseverance’s parachute is based on the design successfully flown by Mars Curiosity in 2012. However, since Perseverance is slightly heavier than Curiosity, engineers strengthened their parachute design. But how to be sure it will do what is expected of it? Test, test, test.
First, the team focused on verifying the chute would hold up under the strain of slowing a fast-moving spacecraft down in the Martian atmosphere. In the summer of 2017, they traveled to the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex at NASA’s Ames Research in California’s Silicon Valley to observe trial chute deployments close up in a wind tunnel, checking workmanship and looking for any unexpected behavior.
In this June 2017 photo, the supersonic parachute design that will land NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, undergoes testing in a wind tunnel at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames
More complex evaluations would come between March and September 2018. The team tested the chute three times in Mars-relevant conditions, using Black Brant IX sounding rockets launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Research Facility in Virginia. The final test flight, on September 7, exposed the chute to a 67,000-pound (37,000-kilogram) load – the highest ever survived by a supersonic parachute and about 85% higher than what the mission’s chute is expected to encounter during deployment in Mars’ atmosphere.
This animated GIF shows a test of the mortar system that will be used on Feb. 18, 2021, to deploy the parachute for NASA’s Perseverance rover. The test took place in November 2019 at a facility in central Washington. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The team also tested the chute’s deployment mortar. Perseverance’s parachute is packed into an aluminum canister so tightly, it has the density of oak. The mortar is a cylindrical canister cradled atop the aeroshell, which encapsulates the rover. At the time of deployment, an explosive propellant at the base of the mortar will launch the carefully bundled array of nylon, Technora, and Kevlar at just the right velocity and trajectory into the Martian slipstream.
Mortar deployment evaluations took place in the winter of 2019 at a test facility in central Washington. The temperature of the mortar canister during the first test synched closely with the ambient air temperature – about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). The second and third were executed with the mortar chilled to minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 55 degrees Celsius) – well below the temperature at which the mortar is expected to fire during the actual deployment at Mars (14 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 10 degrees Centigrade). The mortar passed all three tests with flying colors.
Running Hot and Cold
The Sun’s rays heat a white-painted rover differently than they would, say, a Mars boulder. To better understand what temperature-sensitive instruments and subsystems will encounter, the team tested Perseverance’s “thermal model.” In October 2019, they placed the rover in JPL’s 25-foot-wide, 85-foot-tall (8-meter-by-26-meter) vacuum chamber for a daylong test, where powerful xenon lamps several floors below beamed upward, hitting a mirror at the top of the chamber to drench the spacecraft with light.
After the lamps warmed up and reached the same intensity of sunlight the rover will encounter at its landing site in Jezero Crater, an engineer climbed in and measured the “sunlight” reaching different portions of the rover. Data from the test was used to update the rover’s thermal model, giving the team the assurance they needed to proceed with next step in ground-based cold testing.
Once the solar-intensity tests concluded, engineers closed the doors and evacuated the majority of the atmosphere in the chamber to simulate Mars’ thin atmosphere, which has about 1% the atmospheric density of Earth. Then the chamber was chilled to minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 129 degrees Celsius), and for a weeklong subsystems check, they ran computer programs, raised the remote sensing mast and antennas, turned wheels, and deployed the Mars Helicopter to make sure the rover can handle even the coldest Martian nights.
This animated GIF shows the deployment of the Perseverance rover’s remote sensing mast during a cold test in a space simulation chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The test took place in October 2019. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Mars 2020 mission is launching 25 cameras to the Red Planet, a record number for an interplanetary expedition. After installation, each camera bound for the Red Planet had to undergo an “eye” exam.
With a camera called WATSON, which is tasked with taking close-up pictures and (if needed) video of rock textures, project engineers recorded the scene as they danced and waved. The goal: to determine the imager’s frame rate and exposure time, and the ability of its computer to hold and transfer the data.
For other imagers, the test was a little more formal and rigorous. The process is called machine-vision calibration and involves using target boards featuring grids to establish a baseline for a camera’s optical performance. The result? The mission’s vision was 2020.
In this image, engineers test cameras on the top of the mast and front chassis of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. The image was taken on July 23, 2019, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
About the Mars 2020 Mission
Whether they are working on final assembly of the vehicle at Kennedy Space Center, testing software and subsystems at JPL, or (as the majority of the team is doing) teleworking due to coronavirus safety precautions, the Perseverance team remains on track to meet the opening of the rover’s launch period. No matter what day Perseverance launches, it will land at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.
The Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. The Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.