Tests of a novel technology that can accelerate the combustion of crude oil floating on water demonstrated its potential to become an effective tool for minimizing the environmental impact of oil spills. The Flame Refluxer, developed by fire protection engineering researchers, could make it possible to burn off spilled oil quickly while producing relatively low levels of air pollutants. Science Daily Earth and Climate News
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A type of bacteria accidentally discovered during research could fundamentally reshape efforts to cut the huge amount of electricity consumed during wastewater clean-up. The discovery has upended a century of conventional thinking. The microorganisms — ‘comammox’ (complete ammonia oxidizing) bacteria — can completely turn ammonia into nitrates. Science Daily Earth and Climate News
[unable to retrieve full-text content] Space and Time News from Science Daily
[unable to retrieve full-text content]Science Daily Biology News
Nothing works without proteins in the body; they are the molecular all-rounders in our cells. If they do not work properly, severe diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, may result. To develop methods to repair malfunctioning proteins, their structure has to be known. Using a big data approach, researchers have now developed a method to predict protein structures. Science Daily Microbiology News
Through experimental and computational tests, new research expands on the theory of virus surface hydrophobicity. By being slightly water-repellent, the outer layers of proteins in virus capsids affect how it interacts with cells and the environment. Understanding this more can improve vaccine production and virus detection. Science Daily Microbiology News
A new project aims to create an efficient, simple-to-manufacture oxygen-evolution catalyst that pairs well with semiconductors for advanced solar cells. The technique could lead to unique catalysts for other applications. Science Daily Earth and Climate News
This week, from March 20th to 24th, the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference will be taking place in The Woodlands, Texas. Every year, this conference brings together international specialists in the fields of geology, geochemistry, geophysics, and astronomy to present the latest findings in planetary science. One of the highlights of the conference so far has been a presentation about Mars’ weather patterns.
As a team of researchers from the Center for Research in Earth and Space Sciences (CRESS) at York University, demonstrated, Curiosity obtained of some rather interesting images of Mars’ weather patterns over the past few years. These included changes in cloud cover, as well as the first ground-based view of Martian clouds shaped by gravity waves.
When it comes to cloud formations, gravity waves are the result of gravity trying to restore them to their natural equilibrium. And while common on Earth, such formation were not thought to be possible around Mars’ equatorial band, where the gravity waves were seen. All of this was made possible thanks to Curiosity’s advantageous position inside the Gale Crater.
Located near Mars’ equator, Curiosity has managed to consistently record what is known as the Aphelion Cloud Belt (ACB). As the name would suggest, this annually-recurring phenomena appears during the aphelion season on Mars (when it is farthest from the Sun) between the latitudes of 10°S and 30°N. During aphelion, the point farthest from the Sun, the planet is dominated by two cloud systems.
These include the aforementioned ACB, and the polar phenomena known as Polar Hood Clouds (PHCs). Whereas PHCs are characterized by clouds of carbon dioxide, clouds that form around Mars’ equatorial band are made up water-ice. These cloud systems them dissipate as Mars gets closer to the Sun (perihelion), where increases in temperature lead to the creation of dust storms that limit cloud formation.
During the nearly five years that Curiosity has been operational, the rover has recorded over 500 movies of the equatorial Martian sky. These movies have taken the form of both Zenith Movies (ZMs) – which involve the camera being pointed vertically – and Supra-Horizon Movies (SHM), which were aimed at a lower angle of elevation to keep the horizon in frame.
Using Curiosity’s navigation camera, Jacob Kloos and Dr. John Moores – two researchers from CRESS – made eight recordings of the ACB over the course of two Martian years – specifically between Mars Years 31 and Mars Years 33 (ca. 2012 to 2016). By comparing ZM and SHM movies, they were able to discern changes in the clouds that were both diurnal (daily) and annual in nature.
What they found was that between 2015 and 2016, Mars’ ACB underwent changes in opacity (aka. changes in density) during its diurnal cycle. After periods of enhanced early morning activity, the clouds would reach a minimum by late morning. This is followed by a second, lower peak in the late afternoon, which indicated that Mars’ early morning hours are the most favorable time for the formation of thicker clouds.
As for inter-annual variability, they found that between 2012 and 2016, when Mars moved away from aphelion, there was a corresponding 38% increase in the number of higher-opacity clouds. However, believing these results to be the result of a statistical bias caused by an uneven distribution of videos, they concluded that the difference in opacity was more along the lines of about 5%.
These variations were all of this is consistent with tidal temperature variations, where cooler daytime or seasonal temperatures result in greater levels of condensation in the air. The trend of increasing clouds throughout the day was unexpected, however, as higher temperatures should lead to a decrease in saturation. However, as they explained during their presentation, this too could be attributed to daily changes:
“One explanation for the afternoon enhancement put forth by Tamppari et. al. is that as atmospheric temperatures increase the throughout the day, enhanced convection lifts water vapor to the saturation altitude, therefore increasing the likelihood of cloud formation. In addition to water vapor, dust could also be lifted, which act as condensation nuclei, allowing for more efficient cloud formation.”
However, what was most interesting was the fact that during one of day of observation – Sol 1302, or April 5th, 2016 – the team managed to observe something surprising. When looking at the horizon during an SHM, the NavCam caught sight of parallel rows of clouds which all pointed in the same direction. While such ripples are known to happen in the polar regions (where PHCs are concerned), spotting them over the equator was unexpected.
But as Moore explained in an interview with Science Magazine, seeing an Earth-like phenomenon on Mars is consistent with what we’ve seen so far from Mars. “The Martian environment is the exotic wrapped in the familiar,” he said. “The sunsets are blue, the dust devils enormous, the snowfall more like diamond dust, and the clouds are thinner than what we see on the Earth.”
At present, it is not clear which mechanism could be responsible for creating these ripples in the first place. On Earth, they are caused by disturbances below in the troposphere, solar radiation, or jet stream sheer. Knowing what could account for them on Mars will likely reveal some interesting things about its atmosphere’s dynamics. At the same time, further research is necessary before scientists can say definitely that gravity waves were observed here.
But in the meantime, these findings are fascinating, and are sure to help advance our knowledge of the Red Planet’s atmosphere and the water cycle on Mars. As ongoing research has shown, Mars still experiences flows of liquid salt water on its surface, and even experiences limited precipitation. And in telling us more about Mars’ present-day meteorology, it could also reveal things about the planet’s watery past.
The post Curiosity Captures Gravity Wave Shaped Clouds On Mars appeared first on Universe Today.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The fierce competition for lucrative launch contracts from the U.S. Air Force just got more even intense with the announcement that SpaceX outbid arch rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch an advanced military Global Positioning System (GPS III) navigation satellite to orbit in approx. 2 years.
The U.S. Air Force has announced that SpaceX has won the national security contract to launch a single next generation GPS III satellite to Earth orbit in the first half of 2019. The contract award is valued at $96.5 million.
“SpaceX is proud to have been selected to support this important National Security Space Mission,” Gwynne Shotwell, President & COO, told Universe Today in a statement in response to the GPS III award.
The GPS constellation of navigation satellites is vital to both military and civilian users on a 24/7 basis.
“Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, has been awarded a $96,500,490 firm-fixed-price contract for launch services to deliver a GPS III satellite to its intended orbit,” the Air Force announced in a statement.
There could be as many as 15 Air Force launch contracts awarded this year in competitive bidding between ULA and SpaceX.
The upshot is that ULA’s decade long near monopoly on national security launches has now been broken several times in the past year with SpaceX outbidding ULA based on the price of their newer Falcon family of rockets compared to ULA’s long established Atlas and Delta rocket families.
Last year SpaceX won the competition to launch the first GPS-III satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket in 2018 with a bid of $82.7 million after ULA decided not to enter a bid.
“We appreciate the confidence that the U.S. Air Force has placed in our company and we look forward to working together towards the successful launch of another GPS-III mission,” Shotwell elaborated to Universe Today.
ULA did not bid on the first GPS III contract citing the lack of availability of “any Atlas engines available to bid” and other contract factors as the reason for not submitting a bid for the 2018 launch based on the request for proposals (RFP) for the global positioning satellite.
The Atlas V is powered by Russian made RD-180 engines, who’s import for military uses had been temporarily restricted by Congress following the Russian invasion of the Crimea.
The launch price was a deciding factor in the winning bid.
“Each contractor had to prove through their proposal that they could meet the technical, the schedule and the risk criteria,” said Claire Leon, director of the launch enterprise directorate at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, during a media briefing.
“SpaceX was able to do that. I wouldn’t say that they were necessarily better. They adequately met our criteria.”
SpaceX has been snatching away numerous launch contracts from ULA other launch providers across the globe with their substantially lower rocket prices. SpaceX has been hiring while other firms including ULA have suffered layoffs.
So in response to competitive pressures from SpaceX, ULA took concrete steps to dramatically cut launch costs and end dependency on the RD-180s when CEO Tory Bruno announced in April 2015 that the company would develop the new all-American made Vulcan rocket.
Vulcan is slated for an inaugural liftoff in 2019.
The Air Force expects SpaceX to achieve a rapid turnaround from winning the bid to actually launching the GPS satellite by April 2019.
“Contractor will provide launch vehicle production, mission integration, launch operations, spaceflight worthiness and mission unique activities for a GPS III mission. Work will be performed at Hawthorne, California; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida; and McGregor, Texas, and is expected to be complete by April 30, 2019,” said the Air Force.
Only SpaceX and ULA bid on the GPS III satellite launch contract.
“This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with two offers received. Fiscal 2016 space procurement funds in the amount of $96,500,490 are being obligated at the time of award.”
The Air Force opened up military launch contracts to competitive bidding in 2015 after certifying SpaceX as a qualified bidder to launch the nation’s most critical and highly valuable national security satellites on their Falcon 9 booster.
Until 2015, ULA had a near sole source contract with the USAF as the only company certified to bid on and launch those most critical national security satellites. New space upstart SpaceX, founded by billionaire CEO Elon Musk, then forced the bidding issue by filing a lawsuit suing the Air Force.
In response to the lost GPS-III bid, ULA touted their demonstrated record of 100 percent success launching more than 115 satellites.
“United Launch Alliance continues to believe a best value launch service competition with evaluation of mission success and assurance, and past performance including demonstrated schedule reliability, is appropriate and needed for the Phase 1A missions given the technical complexities of rocket launch services and their critical significance to the war fighter and U.S. national security,” ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye told Universe Today.
“Over the past decade, ULA has provided unmatched reliability with 100 percent mission success and ensured more than 115 satellites were delivered safely to their orbits each and every time. We look forward to continuing to provide the best value launch services to enable our customers’ critical missions.”
The most recent ULA launch for the Air Force took place days ago involving the stunning Delta blastoff of the WGS-9 high speed communications satellite on March 18, 2017.
SpaceX has suffered a pair of calamitous Falcon 9 rocket failures in June 2015 and Sept. 2016, destroying both the rocket and payloads for NASA and the AMOS-6 communications satellite respectively.
ULA’s workhorse Atlas V rocket successfully delivered the final GPS satellite in the IIF series to orbit for the US Air Force on Feb 5, 2016.
At that time the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-12 navigation satellite completed the constellation of GPS IIF satellites that are critical to both military and civilian users on a 24/7 basis.
The Atlas V rocket delivered the GPS IIF-12 satellite to a semi-synchronous circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 11,000 nautical miles above Earth.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
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