The sky (no) is the limit | What’s going on in science and astronomy (02/18/2020)

That special moment of the week came, the day when we prepared a summary with the main scientific news of the last days! After all, not everyone has the time they would like to keep up to date with the events of science and astronomy, so Canaltech gives that little help.

Covid-19 is the official name of the new coronavirus

(Photo: Mark Schiefelbein / AP Photo)

The World Health Organization has officially introduced the new name for what we have been calling “new coronavirus”, or “Chinese coronavirus”: it is now called Covid-19 . The idea was to create a name that did not refer to the region where the epidemic started, to avoid stigmatizing the disease.

And speaking of the coronavirus, I mean, in Covid-19, the virus has been shown to be much more resilient than imagined: recently it was discovered that it is able to survive for more than seven days outside the body .

Saying goodbye to the SOFIA observatory

SOFIA observatory outside and its team inside the Boeing 747 (Photos: NASA)

The SOFIA space observatory is expected to be retired by NASA soon . On board a Boeing 747 plane that flies high in the atmosphere to observe the galaxy in a unique way, the observatory was left out of the budget proposed by the White House for next year. SOFIA has been observing space in the infrared spectrum for almost 10 years, and has an important role in the study of the composition of atmospheres and planetary surfaces, in addition to investigating things like the evolution and composition of comets, and exploring the formation of stars.

Pale Blue Point in remastered version

Earth, the pale blue dot that appears to be hit by a ray of sunlight in this iconic image that has just been remastered (Photo: NASA)

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the iconic Pale Blue Dot photo , NASA decided to relaunch the image , which was processed with modern technologies to generate an even more exciting photo of how the Earth is viewed at 6 billion kilometers.

The original photo was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990, 34 minutes before turning off its cameras forever. The idea was to turn the cameras over to make a “family portrait” of the Solar System, and then the Earth appeared as a tiny bluish speck in the darkness of space.

More internet satellites in sight; IAU cares

Shortly after SpaceX launched more Starlink satellites in November 2019, astronomers at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) recorded how the few units have already damaged their work. Each of the tracks in the image shows the passage of a satellite (Photo: NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory / CTIO / AURA / DELVE)

In addition to SpaceX , which has been making frequent launches with lots of 60 Starlink satellites each, and OneWeb, which has already launched a few dozen units, who should enter this new market of internet satellite constellations once and for all is Facebook with the project Athena . The company has kept its activities in this arm somewhat as in the dark, but new documentation obtained by the international press shows that the first Athena satellites can be launched as early as March this year.

And the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has issued a new public warning that these satellite constellations are damaging astronomical observations , posing serious risks to science. They did computer simulations considering 25,000 satellites, and the results indicate that “the appearance of the primitive night sky, especially when observed in dark places, will be changed, because the new satellites can be significantly brighter than the artificial objects already existing in orbit”.

Using as an example observations to be made at the Vera Rubin Observatory, the estimate is that up to 30% of images recorded 30 seconds during twilight will be affected, as the installation has instruments with a wider field of view. On the other hand, observatories with smaller fields of view will be less affected, even if they feel some impact, too.

New candidates to explore the Solar System

(Image: NASA)

The NASA has just elected four missions so that one of them – the winner – is the next to send a ship to explore the solar system up close . The missions are part of the Discovery Program, which since 1992 has financed low-cost projects for this purpose.

The new proposals will receive an initial support of US $ 3 million to develop and mature their concepts, with the winner being announced in 2021 – this, then, will become a real mission to be planned for the near future.

The current candidates are:

  • DAVINCI + , to analyze the atmosphere of Venus and then understand how it was formed and evolve, in addition to determining whether the plan already had an ocean, as imagined;
  • IVO , to explore Io, the volcanic moon of Jupiter, understanding how tidal forces shape interplanetary bodies;
  • TRIDENT , to study Triton, Neptune’s geologically active moon, understanding the formation of potentially habitable worlds at enormous distances from the Sun;
  • VERITAS , to map the surface of Venus and determine the geological history of the planet, in addition to mapping Venusian geology, which is still largely unknown.

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