Notes from our August 12, 2022 Meeting

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. - Carl Sagan

Notes from our August 12, 2022 Meeting

We had a good turn out with Dean, Keith, Hank, Harry, Phil, I, and new member Don present for our 81st meeting and our 11th anniversary get-together.

Left to right, back row, Hank, Keith, Phil, and myself, Jim M.; front row, Harry Dean and new member, Don;
photo curtesy of my granddaughter Cara

We started by introducing ourselves to our new member, Don. Don and I connected through our mutual health club. It pays to wear, astronomy themed t-shirts. Don’s profession was as a high-school science teacher and when I heard that he travels out-of-state for star parties, I knew we had common interests. He raved about his recent experience at the Nebraska star party where he said the Milky Way was so bright, it cast a shadow. Oh, I long to experience those dark skies.


As part of our 11th anniversary, I took members down memory lane by bringing up our notes from the July 2015 Pluto-palooza party which was the first meeting documented on the website that Keith established and continues to support for us. Here is our picture from the November 2021 meeting. Our very first meeting was held on July 21, 2011 and had topics like the last Space Shuttle flight (the 135th mission), the establishment of the Constellation Program which morphed into the SLS rocket and Orion capsule, creation of the Commercial Crew Program which brought us Crewed Dragon from SpaceX and Starliner from Boeing. Wow, only 4 topics for a MASS meeting! It was simpler times.

I shared with the group that 11 years ago, it was harder to find information about space and astronomy topics. You had to rely much more on NASA and their TV channel to get info. Now, we have YouTubers like The Everyday Astronaut, The Angry Astronaut, TMRO, Marcus House in New Zealand, Scott Manley, Answers with Joe Scott, Fraiser Cain of Universe Today, and LaunchPad Astronomy with Christian Ready. Sometimes it’s like trying to drink from a firehose with all the resources that are producing content.

I asked the group if they thought our MASS meeting format was still relevant for them. Everyone said they still find the meetings interesting and informative. Dean had the excellent suggestion of trying to develop some meetings that were focused on a single astronomical topic for education purposes. I said that would be fantastic. He has the action item to suggest some topics for the group to consider. He also said that he will collimate my telescopes and I’d like to invite the whole group over to watch him work his magic. Phil is a new owner of a 5 inch diameter telescope that his daughter gifted him and I’m sure he’d bring it over for observation.

We then moved to recent book reviews. I shared that I just finished reading Lori Garver’s new book, “Escaping Gravity”. She really had an uphill fight for getting commercial cargo and especially commercial crew funded and established. The “cup boys”, her term for the old timers who were against any new way of doing aerospace, were always against the idea. Some of the people against the new “commercial” companies included her NASA boss, Charlie Bolden, and the current NASA administrator, Bill Nelson. Even Ed Weiler, the notable face of the Hubble focusing problem, was a nay-sayer and a bit of a back stabber.

My current read is a book called “A Brief History of Earth – 4 Billion Years in 8 Chapters” by Andrew Knoll. It is amazing what scientists can deduce from isotope analysis of old rocks. It shows why we need to get those core samples back from Mars to try to determine whether simple life existed there 3 billion years ago. We just can’t miniaturize that complex equipment and send it there.

I shared the factoid that I had read that 95% of all the stars that will be born in the universe have already experienced their birth. It seems like the cosmos might be getting a little long in the tooth. I’m glad all those stars are out there for us to enjoy.

I announced that Joe DalSanto, resident astronomer at the College of DuPage, will be giving a lecture titled “Earth, Our Magnificent Home” on November 5, 2022 at 7:30 PM. Anyone interested is welcome to ride with me. Let me know if you are interested.

I also told the group the the local NSSS chapter had their meeting at the Schamburg Library on July 17 and Larry Boyle of the group did a great presentation on the JWST pictures. I shared the most recent edition of “Ad Astra”, the NSSS magazine, with Harry. The editor Rod Pyle does a great job of writing content for it.

The final prelim topic was the recent Astrum video about the Drake Equation. I’m always interested to see what the calculation yields based on the most recent information about the parameters. My take away is that the variables on the right side of the equation are subject to wide guesstimates and you can make the equation yield whatever result you are wishing for.

JWST Pictures

We started with a video from David Butler talking about the early release photos. Frasier Cain also had an excellent explanation of them. For those who want to browse the photos on their own, here is the link to NASA’s web site.

Before I get into the individual pictures, there is a saying that a picture is worth a 1000 words. Astronomers say that a spectrum is worth a 1000 pictures. JWST is probably the best spectrum producing space telescope ever created. It is amazing that JWST has already told us that galaxies 300 million light-years away have neon in them and an exoplanet 1000 light-years away has water vapor in its atmosphere. What a treasure trove of information can be extracted from light!

Here is a list of the first 5 photos and my notes:

1) SMACS (Southern Massive Cluster Survey) – The first photo shows a galaxy cluster lensing other more distant galaxies. In the Frasier Cain video he uses a tool that slides between the Hubble & JWST images. You can tell which telescope picture you are looking at by the shape of the diffraction spikes. Hubble images have 4 spikes shaped like a cross, JWST images have 6 pointed spikes on the bright stars. The farthest galaxy for JWST is 13.1 billion light-years away and already contains oxygen, neon, and other elements. The picture comes from a total exposure of 12 hours, (2 hours in 6 different wave lengths). JWST cam analyze up to 100 galaxy spectra at once using a micro shutter system. Some of the lensed galaxies are duplicates of the same distant galaxy. Astronomers have already analyzed 48 galaxies in the picture. The Hubble deep field exposure was 11.3 days long and took many weeks to produce. Because Hubble is in orbit around Earth, it must shut down when it is in the day light part of its orbit, JWST will be much more efficient and can maintain constant observation. The greatest galaxy red shift so far detected with Hubble is 11, preliminary analysis of this photo is yielding red shifts of up to 20. Ultimately, it is hoped that JWST will find objects with a red shift of 30.

2) water vapor in WASP 96 b hot Jupiter (the exoplanet has half of Jupiter’s mass and its temperature is 1300 degree F). The exoplanet is 1000 light-years away and has an orbit of 3.5 day and .05 AU. The spectrum was made during the exoplanet’s 6.5 hour transit in front of its star. Astronomers obtained the atmosphere’s spectrum by subtracting the spectrum before the transit from the spectrum obtained during the transit of the exoplanet.

3) Southern Ring Nebula planetary nebula – the dimmer star in the center of the nebula is the white dwarf.

4) Stephan’s Quintet – the left galaxy is a fore ground (40 million light years distant) object. The other galaxies are 300 million light-years away and are merging. The picture shows that you can’t use size to indicate distance because the galaxy that is 7 times closer seems to be the same angular size as the others. One galaxy has an active black hole in it. The black hole shines with the intensity of 40 billion suns. This picture is the largest image from JWST with over 1000 exposures stitched together to yield the final image. JWST’s field of view is the size of a grain of rice held at arm’s distance.

 5) Carina Nebula – total nebula size is over 4 degrees. This picture is just part of the nebula. It shows only a small bubble in the nebula located off to one side.

Thanks to the efficiency of the Ariane 5 launch, JWST should have enough propellant to maintain its position at L2 for 20 years of operation. We are starting to get our return for the $10 billion budget of JWST. Remember, you do have to realize that your eyes cannot see the infra-red light detected by JWST. Infra red light at different wavelengths are captured by the telescope and then assigned colors to make an informative and pleasing image.

I am happy that President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris took the time to show the SMACS image 1 day early. But waiting 45 minutes for them to make their few minutes of commentary was a little disappointing. For the group’s appreciation for the 6.5 meter size of JWST, I said that the family room that we are in, imagine the telescope reaching from the wall behind the tv to the opposite wall with the octagon window and then expanding that size by 2 feet. It is big! 6.5 meter equates to 21.3 feet.

The first negative news about JWST was that 6 micro-meteoroid hits have already occured. Scientists knew that JWST doesn’t have any protection for it’s mirror because the tube would give off heat compromising the science. But one of the hits was from a .1 mm object which was bigger than anticipated or at least an impact not expected so soon in the mission. The larger object did noticeable damage to the C3 mirror. Misalignment of the mirrors is reported as a linear distance of nano-meters (billionths of a meter). The original error on the C3 segment was 56 nm but after the hit it went up to 258 nm. Subsequent adjustments of the mirror have reduced the misalignment to 178 nm. Overall the telescope had an error of 59 nm and the hit caused an increase in the error of a factor of 5-10. This misalignment is still well within the expected precision of JWST. The biggest concern is that scientists might have underestimated the frequency of these larger hits.

I couldn’t let the group go without a deep dive into red shift. I don’t think my explanation did the topic justice, but I tried. To explain red shift I first used this short video from “Secrets of the Universe”. Red shift is written in the equations as, “Z”. It means that light emitted by the object had been shifted to longer wavelengths by the expansion of space between us and the distant object. If the light was emitted at 200 nm and has been stretched to 400 nm, the object is at a red shift of 1. This means space has linearly expanded by a factor of 2. What was a meter in length at the emitting object, is now 2 meters long in our location. If length expands by a factor of 2, area expands by a factor of 4 and volume by a factor of 8. Here is a convenient calculator by Ned Write which will convert a red shift (z) into a distance and a look-back time. It assumes a Hubble constant, H0, of 69.6 km/sec/mega parsec and a lambda matter parameter of .286 and lambda dark energy parameter of .714. It also computes that the current age of the universe is 13.721 billion years since the Big Bang (BB). To use the the calculator, enter the z factor in the box and click on the “general” button to calculate. Some examples are, the Hubble telescope limit is z=11. This value yields an age of .419 billion or 419 million years after the BB when the light was emitted and a current distance 32.161 billion light-years. Recent evidence from JWST shows a galaxy with a z=13 which corresponds to 332 million years after the BB. There also is a preliminary claim for a z of 20 object which yields 180 million years after the BB and a distance of 35.852 billion light-years. If JWST reaches its goal of z=30 that would yield 100 million years after the BB and a distance of 37.873 billion light-years. The Cosmic Background Radiation is at a z=1100. This radiation was emitted when the universe was only 380,000 years old and it comes from a distance of 45 billion light-years.

Artemis & Lunar Gateway

The big news is Artemis 1 is scheduled to launch on August 29. It had been a long wait and Jami from TMRO did a good job in this video summarizing the time from Shuttle retirement to today.

Artemis 1 has several launch opportunities of August 29, September 2 or 5. There is a skip on the launch dates because the Orion capsule cannot be eclipsed by the Earth on its way to the moon for too long a duration. I took a survey among the group as to which date SLS and Orion will launch. I reminded the group that the rocket holds 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen. The wet-dress rehearsal that tested the ground system’s ability to fuel it up, had its issues with leaks and other problems. SLS will generate 8.8 million lbs of thrust compared to Saturn 5’s 7.5 million lbs. It will be the most powerful rocket ever launched and is capable of putting 70 metric tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Dean and Phil are optimistic that August 29 will be the date, Hank and Keith thought September 2 is most likely and myself, Harry and Don came in with the pessimistic September 5 guess. The rocket is scheduled to rollout of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on August 18. It actually rolled out 1 day early on August 17. Good luck SLS, we are rooting for you.

Here is a video summarizing the Artemis 1 mission. NASA has a good graphic of the Artemis 1 mission. SLS is to send the Orion capsule on a 42 day mission that will orbit the moon for several weeks in a looping orbit that brings it 62 miles from the surface of the moon at its closest and 38,000 miles away at its farthest. The Orion capsule will have 3 manikins in it. The full manikin in the commander’s seat is called Moonikin Campos, Campos was a NASA person instrumental in successfully returning the Apollo 13 astronauts, and 2 female torsos called Helga and Zohar from Germany as part of the European Space Agency (ESA) contribution. There also will two 0-G indicators called Snoopy and “Shaun the Sheep” on board. Orion will experience 2.5G’s at launch and a couple of 4G events on return to Earth from the moon. The capsule is expected skip in and out of the atmosphere at least once to bleed off the +25,000 mph speed it will have returning from lunar orbit. It will splash down off the California coast and be retrieved by Navy assets. Dean and Beth did a great job summarizing the mission. I watched them once on FaceBook live and then listened again to Beth’s Casual Space podcast so that I could assimilate all the details.

Later missions of Artemis 2 will fly a similar orbit around the moon with a crew of 4 in Orion and Artemis 3 is schedule to perform a lunar landing at the South pole with crew using the SpaceX developed Lunar Starship. Joe Scott had a great summary of Artemis 1 thru 5. The Orion and Starship are intending to dock in lunar orbit so that astronauts can transfer to Starship for the lunar landing. I’m unsure if the Lunar Gateway will be part of this mission. Some say yes, others no. Marcus House summarizes Artemis 3.

After Artemis 3 there is the potential for the Lunar Gateway to be in lunar orbit. Here is what Gateway is planned to be. The first 2 modules, the Power and Propulsion Element(PPE) and Habitation And Logistics Outpost(HALO) are already being constructed and SpaceX is planning to launch them on a Falcon Heavy rocket in November 2024. Joe Scott had a part 1 of Artemis video that talks about the robotic missions including building the Gateway. Here are NASA diagrams for Artemis 2, Artemis 3, and Artemis 4 .

Lunar Gateway with US & International modules, Russia no longer a participant

The Gateway plan is still a little sketchy. I found this video explaining the HALO module. This short video shows how the Starship and Orion will dock with Gateway. This article from Wikipedia was the best I could find describing the entire Gateway.

SLS and Orion come with quite a bit of controversy. Here is an editorial by Casey Dreier of the Planetary Society titled “Why we have SLS?” The article shows how SLS is more a Congressional decision than one made by NASA. Originally SLS was to cost $6 billion with a launch in 2016. Now launching in 2022 with more than $23 billion spent, costing $876 million to $2 billion per launch. I’ve heard the first 4 Artemis launches are even more costly at $4.1 billion each. Is SLS development bending to wealthy industries or is it democracy responding to local constituents. SLS/Orion might have supported 69,000 jobs nationwide. Coming at the end of Shuttle, when the US was in a recession, led us to the SLS program. NASA spends $4-5 billion each year on its development. In 2009 when Obama was cancelling Constellation, the action would have put tens of thousands out of jobs, mainly in the south. SLS is the shuttle work force reincarnated. The program has been over funded by Congress since 2012. The article has a nice graph showing SLS, Orion & ground systems funding by year. SLS is still costing $2.6 billion per year for development. The hope is that the US can develop a political coalition more interested in the overall science NASA can enable than keeping the status quo on old rocket technology. It is an issue of local interests versus national interests. I’m wishing the SLS/Orion the best of luck on its launch and progress but I’m also fearful that the program will suck NASA dry, if its cost can’t be reduced.

In Starship news, SpaceX’s heavy lift rocket, things have been pretty quiet. There have been no destructive landing attempts, but they had one explosion under the Super Heavy booster that damaged some of the 33 Raptor engines on July 16. On August 4, 2022 Elon Musk said Starship’s first orbital mission is 1 to 12 months away. That is quite a wide spread in time. Early on I thought Starship might beat SLS to orbit, but now the smart money is on SLS.


In what can be considered the first Artemis mission, the cubesat CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment) was launched by RocketLab from New Zealand on June 28. A cubesat is a small satellite built in small 10 cm cube units. Capstone is a 12U cubesat, so its size is 12 of these 10 cm cubes. It was privately built and supported with a $13.7 million grant. It weighs only 25 kg and could fit inside a mini-frig. Rocket Lab’s launch cost was only $10 million. Capstone’s primary purpose is to demonstrate a new system of autonomous navigation around the moon but will also demonstrate the near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) that the future Lunar Gateway will use. This orbit is highly elliptical and varies from 70,000 km to 3000 km and balances the gravity of the Earth and Moon enabling the spacecraft to use only a small amount of propellant to hold position. The orbit also allows a spacecraft to be in constant communication with Earth. This is the first interplanetary mission for Rocket Lab and their Electron rocket and its third stage, Photon. The Photon separates from the rocket 20 minutes after liftoff and uses ion propulsion to gain more speed. Six days later after raising the orbit to 60,000 km, it will make a final burn sending the probe on a 4 month ballistic lunar transfer path that uses the Sun’s gravity to take it 3 times the earth-moon distance on its way to lunar orbit.

Early in the mission the probe had some communication problems due to a software glitch but they were corrected. It will arrive in lunar orbit on November 13. It will be in a 7 day lunar orbit that will bring it within 1000 miles of the moon’s south pole and then swing 43,000 miles high over the north pole. NASA needs to check this orbit because it could be complicated by mascons, concentrations of mass under the surface of the moon, that perturb lunar orbits and make them unstable.

A second lunar spacecraft called the South Korean Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) was launched by a Falcon 9 rocket on August 4. The craft named Danuri has a camera called ShadowCam which will be able to see into shadowed craters at the south pole 200x better that previous spacecraft, mapping them to 1.7 meters/pixel.

Commercial Crew

It took Boeing a long 29 months to retry its unmanned Starliner test. But OFT-2 successfully launched on May 19, docked with the ISS and landed with its air bags in the New Mexico dessert on May 25. The first try by Boeing, OFT-1, was on December 20, 2019. Starliner uses its own thrusters for a minute after separating from the Centaur upper stage before achieving orbit. Although there was some issues with thrusters again, they were not serious enough to jeopardize the mission. The Atlas 5 burns much longer, 4.5 minutes, than the 2.5 minutes for a Falcon 9 first stage. This allows a much shallower ascent by Starliner. The launch has a few shedding events like the nosecone and aeroskirt which makes it different from Crewed Dragon. Starliner is designed to seat 7 but will be configured for 5 astronauts on NASA missions, including 1 extra paying non NASA passenger. Dragon was to have similar capabilities but seating changes to prevent injury during splashdown have reduced its crew to 4. The Starliner capsule is designed for up to 10 flights, Dragon for up to 5. Both vehicles have a disposable section with Dragon’s trunk and Starliner’s service module. Starliner will have to transition to the new Vulcan rocket after the Atlas 5 rockets are used up. But ULA and Boeing say CFT and the 6 operational missions for NASA will all be on Atlas 5. 90% of Vulcan Centaur hardware is already flying on Atlas 5. Two major changes are the emergency detection system and the BE-4 engines from Blue Origin. Remember, Sierra Space is also interested in human rating Vulcan if the Dream Chaser ever carries people. Both the Starliner and Crew Dragon can spend 210 days docked to ISS. Starliner nominally lands in New Mexico on airbags. Boeing plans to service its contract with NASA of 6 crewed missions with 2 capsules, SpaceX has a fleet of 4 crew capable Dragons. Starliner is capable of ISS reboost because the thrusters are on the back of the service module. Dragon’s most powerful thrusters are under the nosecone where it docks with ISS. Therefore, the thrusters cannot be used when docked to ISS. Boeing will charge NASA $90 millions per seat compared to SpaceX’s cost of$55 million per person. Starliner is 17 ft tall and 15 ft in diameter, bigger than the Apollo capsule. Dragon is more elongated and stands 26.5 ft tall with a diameter of 13 ft. Starliner’s maneuvering thrusters have 1500 lbs of force. Dragon’s Draco thrusters provide 90 lbs each, 4 are under the nose cone. Everyday Astronaut has a great series of pictures contrasting the 2 capsules. Comparing the sizes of Orion, Starliner, Apollo and Crew Dragon is in this interesting picture of the 4 capsule sizes. Habitable volume for the capsules is listed as, Dragon 9.3 m3, Orion 9 m3 and Starliner 11m3.

The OFT-2 Starliner docking with the ISS was not without its hiccups, docking was delayed 1 hour because of a software issue with a skewing docking graphic, the docking ring had to be reset and deployed again because it didn’t get in the proper configuration, cooling loops on the capsule had some issues, after 2 of the larger thrusters failed during orbital insertion, a couple of the smaller in-space ones also had problems, because the thrusters on the service module which burns up in the atmosphere, we might never know why they failed. Boeing took a $595 million charge against earnings to pay for OFT-2 because Commercial Crew is a fixed price contract. It was an accurate landing, coming down only .3 miles from its target in New Mexico on its air bags.

NASA said there will be an announcement coming on August 25 about the next Starliner crewed mission.

NASA buys 5 more crewed Dragon missions – This will keep ISS staffed until 2030. SpaceX will fly more than twice as many crews than Boeing, 14 crewed launches by SpaceX, only 6 from Boeing. SpaceX has already launch 4 operational missions starting in November 15, 2020. NASA plans to fly only 2 missions with a crew of 4 each year to the ISS. Starliner might have role to fill on Blue Origin’s future Orbital Reef space station project but would need to transition from Atlas 5 to Vulcan rocket with the cost of human rating the new rocket.


China has come a long way in recent years. Their first attempt at a Mars rover was successful and the Zhurong rover which landed on May 14, 2022 is still operating, although it is currently hibernating until the December timeframe. They also landed on the far side of the moon and a landing on the near side took a lunar sample and returned it to Earth.

The Shenzhou 14 capsule with 3 taikonauts launched on June 5. The taikonauts were aboard the station when the 22.5 metric ton Wentian science module launched and autonomously docked on July 24. Because the Wentian was launched with another Long March 5 rocket, most of the world had to endure the wait to see if the rocket would fall on them. So far China has not done anything to the rocket so that it would enter in a controlled manner and make them a responsible space-faring nation. One more module, the Mentian, is expected to launch in 2022 on another Long March 5. With the addition of that module, the Tiangong-3 space station will weigh in at about 100 tons, about one fifth the mass of the ISS or about the size of the old Russia MIR station. With the addition of the recent Wentian module, China plans to keep the station continuously occupied and can expand to 6 taikonauts during crew swaps.


Psyche, NASA’s mission to a metal rich asteroid is delayed. The mission missed its 2022 launch window due to navigation software being delivered late and the software test bed was not ready to thoroughly test the software. Blame it on JPL and Maxar, the spacecraft creator. NASA will announce in late September what they will do with the mission, launch in the future or just cancel it totally. It would have taken the spacecraft, Psyche, 3.5 years to reach the asteroid Psyche in 2026 and then study the asteroid for 21 months. Mission costs were nearly $1 billion. Two small Janus probes weighing 80 lbs were to be deployed and fly to separate asteroids as a ride-along mission. The main probe was to be loaded with more than a ton of xenon gas for the electric ion propulsion system.

NASA’s 2023 budget has been finalized. The original draft bill included $25.446 billion for NASA in FY 2023 which is $1.4 billion (5.8%) more than 2022 but $527 million less than the White House (WH) request (Presidential Budget Request or PBR). Funding for SLS, Orion and ground support is slightly above request but Gateway and HLS will be reduced. NEO Surveyor, the mission to search for potentially hazardous asteroids, has had its funding reduced to only $40 million which will delay the launch by 2 years to 2026. Nuclear thermal propulsion got $110 million, far above the $15 million request. Here is the Planetary Society analysis of the NASA 2023 budget. In later negotiations Congress doubled NEO Surveyor’s money to $80 million. Hopefully that will lead to an earlier launch. Money for the second Human Landing System has not materialized. It was to come from another spending bill. I think we are currently with only only one HLS mission, the SpaceX Lunar Starship.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is scheduled to collide on September 26, 2022 at 6:14 PM CDT with the smaller of the double asteroid, Dimorphos. The double asteroid has Didymos, the larger body at 780 meters and Dimorphos, the smaller moonlet 160 meter object. DART which weighs 550 kg will impact Dimorphos at 14,000 mph. Scientists hope to slow the moonlet’s 11 hour 55 minute orbit by about 10 minutes. The craft won’t be able to see the asteroids as separate objects until about 1 hour before impact. NASA plans a real-time broadcast. To qualify as a NEO an object must come within .3 astronomical units (AU, 1AU is 93 million miles or the distance from the earth to the sun) of earth’s orbit. You can follow progress on the spacecraft on the John Hopkins web site. There are 3 main reasons to study asteroids: 1) earth protection; 2) search for possible seeds of life; and 3) resource mining.

NASA has decided to launch the Nancy Grace Roman telescope on a Falcon Heavy. Launching in October 2026, SpaceX will charge $225 million. That is considerably more than the usual $100 million for the rocket. The $4.3 billion telescope might have special needs? The telescope was donated by the Department of Defense to NASA because it has a couple of spares left over from its spy satellites. The telescope will have a mirror the size of the Hubble Telescope at 2.4 meters. Nice to have space Hubbles, but that is the magnitude of military funding.


I’ve found a new good resource for following NASA’s rovers on Mars. It is a YouTuber called, “Mars Guy”, he puts out a very good and concise weekly episode. I especially like him because he puts a familiar object in his videos so that you can grasp how large the Martian object is in the picture. Here is his most recent Episode 70.

If you want to check a few of his other recent videos

Here is an interesting short animation of dust devils in Jezero Crater.

Whereas, the Perseverance rover just celebrated 1.5 years on Mars (August 18), the Curiosity rover just celebrated 10 years. It performed the first “7 minutes of terror” SkyCrane landing on August 5, 2012. I remember watching those first “7 minutes of terror”, nervously chewing on my lucky JPL peanuts. The rover has since driven 18 miles, climbed 2000 feet of elevation up Mt Sharp, drilled 35 holes, and is now on its 3566 sols as of August 17. Mars was a wet planet during its first 1.5 billion years but has been dry for the last 3 billion. Never to be out done, the JPL personnel have figured out how to make one of Curiosity’s instruments play the birthday song on Mars. Here is Curiosity’s home site where you can check its travel route. Curiosity’s wheels have seen a lot of damage from sharp rocks. Being a little more careful, the drivers have been able to limit additional damage. Fortunately, Perseverance has a different wheel design that is performing without incident.

The Mars Sample Return mission has been simplified. The Mars Guy did a good job summarizing the new plan. The earlier plan would have needed 2 landings, now they have dropped the fetch rover and are back to just one Mars landing. They have confidence that the Perseverance rover will last until 2030, so it can perform the task of dropping the samples into the ascent rocket. But the lander will have two helicopters with wheels as a back-up fetch plan. The orbiter would launch in fall of 2027 and the lander would launch in the summer of 2028. Samples would be returned in 2033. Perseverance has 43 sample tubes with some of them meant to be empty control samples. It’s first 24 or so samples will be in paired samples. Those 12 duplicate samples will be cached in a separate area and Perseverance will keep the 30 remaining samples for delivery to the MAV (mars ascent vehicle). Perseverance has already taken 11 drill samples. China says they plan to return a Mars sample 2 years sooner than NASA, we’ll see who does it first.


Sunspot activity has been trending above the consensus prediction. In May 2022 the monthly actual was 96.5 compared to a prediction of 66.5. June 2022 was down to 70.5 compared to a prediction of 70.0 but July 2022 is back up with a 91.4 compared to a prediction of 73.1. The jury is still out whether the consensus prediction will be correct or the radical prediction of Scott McIntosh will be the most accurate. His prediction is a peak of 190 +/-20 for cycle 25. His prediction has something to do with the terminator when the opposite magnetic fields neutralize each other. This event ends one cycle and starts the next. The more time between terminators, the weaker the upcoming cycle. The terminator between cycles 24 and 25 was a bit delayed, cycle 24 didn’t want to go away. It eventually occurred in December 2021, which enabled his forecast. The Sun’s general cycle is 11 years for each polarization or 22 years for a total return to the initial state. The 22 year period is called the Hale cycle. The official forecast for Cycle 25 is a maximum of 115 in April 2025. The current trend will reach that number by end of 2022. Cycle 24 had a maximum of 110. In our February 26, 2021 MASS zoom meeting I reported McIntosh predicting a maximum of 233, so he seems to have toned down his radicle prediction. Previously I said his conjecture was based on sun having 4 different magnetic bands that interfere with each other and manifest in the 11 year cycle. The year 1780 had the all time maximum peak of 400 sunspots. A new study says to use hemispheric sunspot numbers to predict the maximum. Their estimate for cycle 25 will max out at 110 +/- 26. The Sun’s space weather has monetary implications, SpaceX recently lost $50 million when a batch of Starlink satellites were deorbited due to a thicker heated Earth’s atmosphere. There ion thrusters could not overcome the denser atmosphere they encountered due to the Sun heating the atmosphere.


Dmitry Rogozin has been fired. Hurray, his inflammatory comments were always meant for political reasons. But his replacement, Yuri Borisov, doesn’t sound much better. His quote in the article says, “science and cooperation are not priorities, mass production of military and civilian spacecraft are…”. In more positive news Russia and NASA have agreed to swap people on each others manned spacecraft. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will fly as a flight engineer on expedition 68 on September 21 on the MS-22 Soyuz and Loral O’Hara on Expedition 69 crew in Spring 2023 MS-23 Soyuz. Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina will launch on CREW-5 Dragon in September 29 and Andrei Fedyaev on CREW-6 in Spring 2023.

Dark Matter

CERN, the European particle collider organization, has discovered 1 new pentaquark and 2 tetraquarks bringing the total to 21 exotic particles that don’t consist of two of three quarks. These new particles only last for a hundred thousandth of a billionth of a billionth of a second (10^-23). Normal matter is made from only 3 particles, the up and down quarks and the electron. Two up quarks and one down makes a proton and two downs and one up makes a neutron. If CERN could find a dark matter particle, the discovery would surpass the detection of the Higgs particle from 10 years ago. CERN is switching the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) back on after a 3 year hiatus after performing power upgrades. Dark matter is 80% of the matter of the universe. Initially scientists were searching for heavy particles called WIMPs but after 20 years the interest is waning. Other contenders are dark radiation with photons with wavelengths several light years long, mini black holes, modified gravity and other supersymmetry particles. The FASER (Forward Search Experiment) experiment at the LHC is designed to detect light and weakly interacting particles. Dark matter is extremely shy and only interacts with the rest of the universe thru gravity and possibly the weak force. Axions are a hypothetical light particle that could have been created in the big bang. Key to finding axions is finding its mass. Without knowing its mass, it is like listening to a radio station without knowing the frequency. FASER is looking for the dark photons created in collisions in the LHC. The dark photon could interact with the tungsten target and decay into a bunch of standard model particles. The axion was first proposed in 1977 as a low mass and low energy particle created from strong force interactions between quarks and gluons. There is a CP (Conjugation Parity) violation (matter and anti-matter should have equal probabilities) in weak interactions and there might be an equivalent violation in strong force interactions. Axions enable the strong force not to have this violation. In 2020 a team of physicists found the first direct evidence for axions. The XENON1T experiment at the Gran Sasso National Lab in Italy found a signal, but it is unconfirmed. The signal they saw could be due to solar axions or it could be solar neutrinos. Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) were to be 1-1000 times heavier than a proton. Axions at only 40-180 micro electron volts (1 ten billionth the mass of an electron, electrons are 1836 times lighter than protons) are much much lighter. The key to an axion solution for dark matter is that they are low energy and therefore low momentum, meaning they would not be hot particles but a great candidate for cold dark matter, slow moving.

The largest WIMP detector called LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) in US just released its first 65 days worth of data taken over 4 months since December 2021. Scientists eventually hope for 1000 days of data over the next 3-5 years. Similar detectors are in Italy and China and are likely the last generation of WIMP detectors that have searched for 40 years for dark matter particles. Searching for a particle about 100 times the mass of a proton, they are looking for the recoil in an atomic nucleus and need to be shielded deep within the Earth. The recoil should produce a flash of light from a xenon atom and an electron which can be detected separately at the top of the tank. The LZ detector contains 7 metric tons of liquid xenon and is 1480 meters down in a South Dakota gold mine. Researchers did see 335 recoil events but that is what is expected when radioactive isotopes in the xenon decay. Dan Hooper, a local theorist at Fermi Lab, is not surprised by the null result given that PandaX-4T, a 3.7 metric ton xenon detector in China has not seen positive results yet either. A third detector, XENONnT, is an operating a 5.9 metric ton detector in Italy.


The European Gaia spacecraft has just done another data release. The latest release has magnitude estimates for 1.8 billion objects, astrometric parameters for 1.5 billion objects (parameters include parallax, and proper motion out to magnitude 21). It also contains 15,021 Cepheid variable stars and 872,228 quasars. You can do your own data mining with the results. Come on MASS members, let’s one of us get a Nobel Prize for out discovery in the data.


The “New Frontiers” computer down in Oak Ridge has set a record of 1.1 x 10^18 flops (1.1 quintillion or 1.1 billion billion floating point operations per second). China might have a more powerful computer but they don’t share the details. The computer beat out the old record holder, a Japanese computer, at .4 exaflops (.4 quintillion flops). The new computer is schedule to perform super nova explosion calculations among other things.


Well our meeting last Friday lasted 3.5 hours and the notes are pushing 7000 words. That is what happens when we don’t meet for a quarter of a year (13 weeks). We’ve got to meet more frequently.