Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos

Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos
A screen broadcasts a CCTV state media news bulletin, showing an image of Mars taken by Chinese Mars rover Zhurong as part of the Tianwen-1 mission, in Beijing, China, May 19, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 May 2021

Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos

Chinese Mars rover beams back first photos
  • China’s first probe on the Red Planet has beamed back its first “selfies” after its history-making landing last week
  • The Zhurong rover has been celebrated in China as a milestone in its ascent to space superpower status

BEIJING: Solar panels against an alien landscape, ramps and rods pointing at the Martian horizon — China’s first probe on the Red Planet has beamed back its first “selfies” after its history-making landing last week.
The Zhurong rover was carried into the Martian atmosphere in a lander on Saturday, in the first ever successful probe landing by any country on its first Mars mission.
Zhurong, named after a mythical Chinese fire god, arrived a few months behind the United States’ latest probe to Mars — Perseverance — and has been celebrated in China as a milestone in its ascent to space superpower status.
The China National Space Administration on Wednesday published the images taken by cameras attached to the rover, which showed the obstacle-avoidance equipment and solar panels on the vehicle, as well as the texture of the Martian surface.
“People of the Internet, the Mars images you’ve been longing for are here,” the space agency said in a social media post containing the images.
The rover’s landing was a nail-biter for Chinese space engineers, with state media describing the process of using a parachute to slow descent and buffer legs as “the most challenging part of the mission.”
It is expected to spend around three months there taking photos and harvesting geographical data.
China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.
It successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month with hopes of having it crewed by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.


China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
Updated 16 October 2021

China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
  • Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022
  • With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit

JIUQUAN, China: China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts — two men and one woman — to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest orbit for Chinese astronauts.
A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel,” blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. (1623 GMT on Friday).
The vessel successfully docked to the port of the space station on at 6:56 a.m. (2156 GMT), and the astronauts entered the space station’s core module at 10:03 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said.
China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe — the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.
Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/chinese-astronauts-return-after-90-day-mission-space-station-2021-09-17 that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.
In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.
The mission commander is Zhai Zhigang, 55, from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. Born to a rural family with six children, Zhai carried out China’s first spacewalk in 2008. Shenzhou-13 was his second space mission.
“The most challenging task will be the long-term stay in orbit for six months,” Zhai told a news conference on Thursday. “It will exact higher demands (on us), both physically and psychologically.”
He was accompanied by Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, both 41.
Wang, also born to a rural family, is known among colleagues for her tenacity. The former air force pilot first traveled to space in 2013, to Tiangong-1, a prototype space lab.
She is China’s second female astronaut in space, following Liu Yang in 2012.
Shenzhou-13 is the first space mission for the third astronaut, Ye.
After the crew returns to Earth in April, China plans to deploy six more missions, including deliveries of the second and third space station modules and two final crewed missions.
China, barred by US law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own.
With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.
China’s space program has come far since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space. China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, in October 2003, following the former Soviet Union and the United States. (Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Xihao Jiang; additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie and William Mallard)


For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

For the love of space: Saudis  celebrate International Astronomy Day
Updated 09 October 2021

For the love of space: Saudis celebrate International Astronomy Day

For the love of space: Saudis  celebrate International Astronomy Day
  • ‘Space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences,’ says Astromania co-founder

JEDDAH: Astronomy enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia are observing International Astronomy Day and World Space Week this year by encouraging others to look up in wonder with some visual and auditory help.

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year — around the times of the Spring and Autumn equinox or first quarter moon — to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year.

Arab and Muslim scholars have made significant contributions to astronomy throughout history — suggesting scientific and mathematical methods; naming stars and nebulae; and more.

While it may seem that we now spend less time looking at the skies, and more time looking down at our screens, 21st-century technology is actually enabling enthusiasts across the world to share knowledge, spread information, and raise awareness at lightning speed.  

In Saudi Arabia, Astromania — founded by Mahdi Al-Sulaiman, Fatima Hilal, and Abdullah Al-Meshari, a trio of space lovers — has made good use of this technology, starting a podcast in 2019 to complement its stargazing trips into the desert, which enable people to check out some of the brightest astronomical objects through telescopes.

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

“I’ve always been interested about space, and I wanted to create an Arabic platform that helps other people to know more about it in a non-academic style, in a fun and easy-to-understand way,” Hilal told Arab News.

“People were weirded out and surprised when they heard about the subject. But now people understand the idea when they listened to the podcast for the first time. I know it is a unique subject, but it is a passion of mine,” she added.

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online —  notably on Wikipedia and a few social-media pages — Astromania is, the group claim, the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to create something out of love, so basically we are doing this podcast for free,” Hilal said. “The main reason why we created this podcast is to educate people more about the world and people’s support is very important to us.”

HIGHLIGHTS

While there is Arabic-language astronomy content available online Astromania is the first podcast in Arabic talking about astronomy and space. It is an independent project, but the founders work closely with the Saudi Space Authority too.

The podcast quickly gathered popularity, even attracting the attention of the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform, which selected Astromania as one of the top 14 podcasts to listen to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To celebrate World Space Week,  the UK’s National Space Center is running a ‘Women in Space’ program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history.

To celebrate World Space Week (which runs from October 4-10),  the UK’s National Space Center is running a “Women in Space” program to shed light on women’s role in the science of space and astronomy throughout history. Hilal expressed her excitement at the theme.

“This will definitely help young girls to consider space science as a profession,” she said. “We already have some successful Saudi women who work in the field, like Ghada Al-Muttairi and Mashael Al-Shammari. They are setting an example for Saudi women.”

To coincide with International Astronomy Day and World Space Week, this month’s episode of the Astromania podcast features Jordanian-British filmmaker Kinda Al-Kurdi, who won the Best Documentary Short Film award for her film “As in Heaven, So on Earth” at the Moscow International Film Festival, Hilal said. “We are going to discuss the relationship between films and space.”

Hilal’s co-founder Mahdi Al-Sulaiman told Arab News that events such as World Space Week remind people “to think beyond our planet and beyond our differences. To work together as men and women of this great nation to pave the way for a better and prosperous future for the next generations.”

International Astronomy Day is celebrated twice a year to highlight how the constellations and other astronomical objects vary throughout the year. (Supplied)

He continued, “We are not just sharing one planet, we share one fate. And space exploration unites us as a species, despite our differences. I hope the celebration of International Astronomy Day will also inspire future generations to become astronauts, space scientists, or work in the space industry, to build a better tomorrow and take the next giant leaps to sustain mankind’s future.”

Joining in on the celebrations is avid Saudi astrophotographer Anas Al-Majed who has, for years, frequented the Kingdom’s many deserts, searching the night skies through his telescope for the perfect shot.

Al-Majed — who purchased his first telescope seven years ago — told Arab News he was “awestruck” by the detail it provided.

“From Saturn’s rings to Jupiter’s bands and Great Red Spot, my interest grew and I delved into deep-sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula.”

His experience with astrophotography has made a lasting impression, he said. And he encourages everyone to consider taking the time to learn more about our galaxy and what lies beyond it.

“We need everyone to be part of space programs,” he said. “The space industry can help human advancement and provide equal opportunities for everyone.”


Ancient river delta bolsters search for signs of life on Mars

Ancient river delta bolsters search for signs of life on Mars
Updated 08 October 2021

Ancient river delta bolsters search for signs of life on Mars

Ancient river delta bolsters search for signs of life on Mars
  • Last month mission scientists announced Perseverance had collected two rock samples in Jezero that showed signs they were in contact with groundwater for a long period

PARIS: Images from Mars reveal how water helped shape the Red Planet's landscape billions of years ago, and provide clues that will guide the search for evidence of ancient life, a study said Thursday.
In February, NASA's Perseverance rover landed in Jezero crater, where scientists suspected a long-gone river once fed a lake, depositing sediment in a fan-shaped delta visible from space.
The study in Science analysed high-resolution images captured by Perseverance of the cliffs that were once the banks of the delta.
Layers within the cliffs reveal how its formation took place.
NASA astrobiologist Amy Williams and her team in Florida found similarities between features of the cliffs seen from the crater floor and patterns in Earth's river deltas.
The shape of the bottom three layers showed a presence and steady flow of water early on, indicating Mars was "warm and humid enough to support a hydrologic cycle" about 3.7 billion years ago, the study says.
The top and most recent layers feature boulders measuring more than a metre in diameter scattered about, probably carried there by violent flooding.
But it is the fine-grained sediment of the base layer that will likely be the target of sampling for signs of long-extinct life -- if it existed -- on Mars.
The findings will help researchers figure out where to send the rover for soil and rocks that may contain precious "biosignatures" of putative Martian life forms.
"From orbital images, we knew it had to be water that formed the delta," Williams said in a press release.
"But having these images is like reading a book instead of just looking at the cover."
Finding out whether life may have existed on Mars is the main mission of Perseverence, a project that took decades and cost billions of dollars to develop.

Over the course of several years, the multi-tasking rover will collect 30 rock and soil samples in sealed tubes, to be eventually sent back to Earth sometime in the 2030s for lab analysis.
Last month mission scientists announced Perseverance had collected two rock samples in Jezero that showed signs they were in contact with groundwater for a long period.
Their hope is that the samples might at one point have hosted ancient microbial life, evidence of which could have been trapped by salt minerals.
Learning that Mars might once have harboured life would be one of the most "profound" discoveries ever made by humanity, Williams said.
She also expressed wonder at having a window onto an ancient river system on another planet.
"It's really eye-opening to see something no one on Earth has ever seen before," she said.
Perseverance landed on February 18, and the study looks at long-distance images it captured during its first three months on Mars.
About the size of an SUV, it is equipped with 19 cameras, a two metre (seven foot) long robotic arm, two microphones, and a suite of cutting-edge instruments.
One of them is called the SuperCam, a tool that laser-zaps rocks from a distance in order to study their vapour with a device that reveals their chemical composition.
It took seven months for Perseverance to travel from Earth to Mars with its sister craft Ingenuity, a tiny helicopter whose rotors have to spin five times faster than Earth versions to get lift in the far-less-dense atmosphere.
The plan is for the rover to cross the delta, then the ancient lake shore, and finally explore the edges of the crater.


Creators of molecule-building precision tools win Chemistry Nobel

Creators of molecule-building precision tools win Chemistry Nobel
Updated 07 October 2021

Creators of molecule-building precision tools win Chemistry Nobel

Creators of molecule-building precision tools win Chemistry Nobel
  • David MacMillan and Benjamin List win Chemistry Nobel
  • They created new tools for building molecules, helping make new drugs

STOCKHOLM, Sweden: German Benjamin List and Scottish-born David MacMillan won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for developing new tools for building molecules that have helped make new drugs and are more environmentally friendly.
Their work on asymmetric organocatalysis, which the award-giving body described as “a new and ingenious tool for molecule building,” has also helped in the development of plastics, perfumes and flavours.
“Organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. “Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.”
Catalysts are molecules that remain stable while enabling or speeding up chemical reactions performed in labs or large industrial reactors. Before the laureates’ breakthrough findings at the turn of the millennium, only certain metals and complex enzymes were known to do the trick.

The academy said the new generation of small-molecule catalysts were more friendly for the environment and cheaper to produce, and praised the precision of the new tools.
Before asymmetric catalysis, man-made catalyzed substances would often contain not only the desired molecule but also its unwanted mirror image. The sedative thalidomide, which caused deformities in human embryos around six decades ago, was a catastrophic example, it said.
“The fact is, it is estimated that 35 percent of the world’s total GDP in some way involves chemical catalysis,” it added.
List, 53, said the academy caught up with him while on vacation in Amsterdam with his wife, who in the past had liked to joke that somebody might be calling him from Sweden.
“But today we didn’t even make the joke and certainly didn’t anticipate this — and then Sweden appears on my phone... it was a very special moment that I will never forget,” he said, dialling into the media briefing announcing the winners.
List, 53, is director of the Max-Planck-Institut fuer Kohlenforschung, Muelheim an der Ruhr, Germany.

He said he did not initially know that MacMillan was working on the same subject and figured his hunch might just be a “stupid idea” until it worked.
He and MacMillan share the prestigious 10-million Swedish crown ($1.14-million) prize in equal parts for breakthroughs achieved independently of one another.
MacMillan, 53, who said he was only the second person in his western Scotland working class family to go to college, noted that it was often challenging for chemists to explain the significance of their work to the outside world.
“But the one thing I will say is that everything we do, or what a chemist does, impacts everything that’s around us all the time,” he told a briefing at Princeton University, where he is a professor.
The impact of his students’ work can be almost immediate, said MacMillan, who has dual US and UK citizenship.
“They are literally doing experiments on a Tuesday, they discover something — we have discussions with major pharmaceutical companies all the time and they learn about what we are doing — and they literally employ it on a Friday,” he said.
Reflecting on the Nobel Prize, he said: “It’s one of those weird moments in life when you have to sit about and think about all the people who got you here, and (it) makes you very sentimental.”
Some scientists had suggested the rapid development of mRNA (Messenger ribonucleic acid) COVID-19 vaccines would be recognized this year, also possibly in the medicine category, which was awarded for discoveries on the sense of touch.
“This is an extremely important topic we’re thinking about, but there will be more years, more Nobel prizes,” said Pernilla Wittung Stafshede of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The prizes, for achievements in science, literature and peace, were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel. They have been awarded since 1901, with the economics prize first handed out in 1969.


SpaceX capsule with world’s first all-civilian orbital crew splashes down off Florida

This September 16, 2021, image courtesy of Inspiration4 shows the Inspiration4 crew (L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor in orbit. (AFP)
This September 16, 2021, image courtesy of Inspiration4 shows the Inspiration4 crew (L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor in orbit. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

SpaceX capsule with world’s first all-civilian orbital crew splashes down off Florida

This September 16, 2021, image courtesy of Inspiration4 shows the Inspiration4 crew (L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor in orbit. (AFP)
  • The crew members will be removed from the capsule once it has been placed safely on the floating recovery vessel

FLORIDA: The quartet of newly minted citizen astronauts comprising the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission safely splashed down in the Atlantic off Florida’s coast on Saturday, completing a three-day flight of the first all-civilian crew ever launched into Earth orbit.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, parachuted into calm seas around 7 p.m. EDT, shortly before sunset, after an automated re-entry descent, SpaceX showed during a live webcast shown on its YouTube channel.
The return from orbit followed a plunge through Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that sent temperatures surrounding the outside of the capsule soaring to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,927 degrees Celsius). The astronauts’ flight suits, fitted to special ventilation systems, were designed to keep them cool if the cabin heated up.
Applause was heard from the SpaceX flight control center in suburban Los Angeles as the first parachutes were seen deploying, slowing the capsule’s descent to about 15 miles per hour (24.14 kilometers per hour) before splashdown, and again as the craft hit the water.
SpaceX recovery boats were shown approaching the water-proof Crew Dragon as it bobbed upright in the ocean, while retrieval teams clambered over the capsule, attaching rigging before hoisting it out of the water. The crew members will be removed from the capsule once it has been placed safely on the floating recovery vessel.
After undergoing medical checks at sea, the four amateur astronauts will be flown by helicopter back to Cape Canaveral to be reunited with loved ones, SpaceX said.
Camera shots from inside the cabin showed them sitting calmly strapped into their seats.
SpaceX, the private rocketry company founded by Tesla Inc. electric automaker CEO Elon Musk, supplied the spacecraft, launched it from Florida and flew it from the company’s suburban Los Angeles headquarters.
The Inspiration4 team blasted off on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral atop one of SpaceX’s two-stage reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
Within three hours the crew capsule had reached a cruising orbital altitude of just over 363 miles (585 km) — higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope, and the farthest any human has flown from Earth since NASA’s Apollo moon program ended in 1972.
It also marked the debut flight of Musk’s new space tourism business and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune to experience the exhilaration of spaceflight and earn amateur astronaut wings.
The Inspiration4 team was led by its wealthy benefactor, Jared Isaacman, chief executive of the e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, who assumed the role of mission “commander.”
“That was a heck of a ride for us,” he radioed from the capsule moments after splashdown. “We’re just getting started.”
He had paid an undisclosed but reportedly enormous sum — put by Time magazine at roughly $200 million — to fellow billionaire Musk for all four seats aboard the Crew Dragon.
Isaacman was joined by three less affluent crewmates he had selected — geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, physician’s assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and aerospace data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42.
Isaacman conceived of the flight primarily to raise awareness and donations for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arceneaux was a patient and now works.
The Inspiration4 crew had no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which was operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though Isaacman and Proctor are both licensed pilots.
SpaceX already ranked as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the space station for NASA.
Two rival operators, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and Blue Origin, inaugurated their own astro-tourism services in recent months, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s three days in orbit.