Curiosity’s steep climb
This selfie was taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on February 26. The crumbling rock layer at the top of the image is "the Greenheugh Pediment," which Curiosity climbed soon after taking the image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Sky News This Week: March 25, 2020

In recent news: interstellar clouds mapped the formation of stars, Curiosity’s epic climb, and a life-friendly environment may have been found in Mercury.

As a Canadian science and space journalist, I’m excited to be bringing you a biweekly synopsis of the top astronomy and space stories.

In recent news: interstellar clouds mapped the formation of stars, the Curiosity rover made an epic climb, and a possible life-friendly environment may have been found in Mercury.

Canadian astronaut recalls epic view of Earth

While the Canadian Space Agency has been quiet lately due to coronavirus, it did retweet an episode of NASA’s “Down to Earth” series that highlights a Canuck.

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques recalled what the view of Earth looked like during his first space mission, which ran for six months in 2018-19. Looking at his first orbital sunrise after launch, he said, “I will never forget that sight, the thin blue line of the atmosphere, the curve of the horizon. That’s when it became real, really, at a gut level, that I’m actually in space.”

The video also shows glimpses of the Soyuz spacecraft interior during the launch, with footage that typically is only rarely released to the public.

Source: International Space Station Twitter feed via Canadian Space Agency Twitter

Interstellar cloud extravaganza

We’ll soon get more details about how stars form.

Astronomers mapped interstellar clouds in radio wavelengths, to a resolution of details 60 times the size of the Solar System. This data was obtained by the Nobeyama 45-metre telescope in Japan, and astronomers plan to use the data to investigate star formation.

The results should help us better understand how our own sun, among other stars, came to be. This project will be complementary with other radio telescope surveys, including those obtained with the more famous Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, the researchers said.

Source: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in Tokyo

A steep climb on Mars

This selfie was taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on February 26. The crumbling rock layer at the top of the image is “the Greenheugh Pediment,” which Curiosity climbed soon after taking the image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Engineers with NASA’s Curiosity rover proudly had the robot take a selfie, just before it made the most challenging climb in its nearly eight-year mission, according to a March 20 announcement.

The rover climbed a rock sheet known as Greenheugh Pediment, reaching inclines of as steep as 31 degrees. Curiosity’s milestone allowed it to almost tie the difficulty of the Opportunity rover’s 32-degree tilt record, which the now inactive Opportunity set in 2016.

Curiosity, however, is still highly active and is making its way up Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) to better understand the history of water in the neighborhood.

Source: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Water reserves on the Moon

On March 25, the European Space Agency released an animation showing possible water below the surface of the Moon’s south pole.

The water could be an important resource for NASA’s planned mission in 2024 to put astronauts on the surface. ESA said it will also use the data to prepare for Russia’s Luna-27 landing mission in 2025, which should carry a European payload to hunt for water.

Researcher Hannah Sargeant of the United Kingdom’s Open University was also recently included on Forbes Magazine‘s 30 Under 30 Europe 2020 Innovation list for her contributions to the project.

Source: European Space Agency

Could Mercury have had life under the surface?

Mercury’s upper crust could host signs of prebiotic chemistry — and perhaps could have once had an environment friendly to simple life forms, new research suggests.

The aftermath of an impact that formed the gigantic Caloris impact basin two billion years ago redistributed volatiles (light elements such as water, which are often used by life) from the upper crust. Activity generated from the impact could have persisted for about 200 million years after the impact, long enough for life to have formed. But far more investigation will be required to learn more about the area’s history.

Source: Planetary Science Institute

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