Asteroid Belt Water | SciByte 117

Asteroid Belt Water | SciByte 117

We take a look at water vapor on a Dwarf Planet, driverless taxis, evening smartphone use, sensors in football helmets, spacecraft updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Water on a Dwarf Planet in the Asteroid Belt

  • Scientists have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.
  • Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up periodically from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly
  • A Viewer Also Pointed Out This Story
  • Michael Thalleen ‏@ThalleenM
  • Ceres
  • Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system
  • When it first was spotted in 1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter
  • The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system\’s existence and accumulated before the planets formed.
  • The International Astronomical Union is the governing organization responsible for naming planetary objects reclassified it as a dwarf planet, a solar system body bigger than an asteroid and smaller than a planet.
  • They reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size. It is roughly 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter
  • Until now, ice had been theorized to exist on Ceres but had not been detected conclusively
  • NASA\’s Dawn Mission
  • Is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year orbiting the large asteroid Vesta is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.
  • There it will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution
  • Intermediate Water Vapor
  • Scientists used far-infrared vision to see, finally, a clear spectral signature of the water vapor, but they did not see water vapor every time it looked
  • They were able to see the water vapor four different times, on one occasion there was no signature
  • What scientists now think is happening is when Ceres swings through the part of its orbit that is closer to the sun, a portion of its icy surface becomes warm enough to cause water vapor to escape in plumes
  • When Ceres is in the colder part of its orbit, no water escapes
  • The strength of the signal also varied over hours, weeks and months, with water vapor plumes rotating in and out of Herschel\’s views as the object spun on its axis
  • This enabled the scientists to localize the source of water to two darker spots on the surface of Ceres
  • Previously seen by NASA\’s Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes, the dark spots might be more likely to outgas because dark material warms faster than light material.
  • Dwarf Planets, Asteroids and Comets
  • \”This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,\” | Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain
  • Scientists now believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more freshwater than is present on all of Earth
  • \”The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids\” | Seungwon Lee of JPL
  • \”We knew before about main belt asteroids that show comet-like activity, but this is the first detection of water vapor in an asteroid-like object.\” | Paul von Allmen, JPL
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Telescope spies water plumes on dwarf planet Ceres |
  • Herschel Discovers Water Vapor Spewing from Ceres |


Driverless Taxis

  • Driverless taxis will be carrying passengers during demonstration projects in five European cities as of February 2014
  • EU-funded CityMobil2 project, is one of a number of research initiatives that are testing out specially designed self-driving road vehicles as the technology required to navigate them becomes cheaper and more reliable
  • Visual Odometry
  • Cybercars have traditionally sensed the world through expensive gyroscopes, microwaves and laser beams
  • Currently, cheap cameras and fast image-recognition algorithms has led to a new technique known as visual odometry
  • Visual odometry uses images to look at the terrain before and after a small drive step
  • By tracking specific features they can tell how far they have moved, the position and orientation of the vehicle.
  • Sound Familiar? Curiosity Rover is using the same technology for some of it\’s automated driving
  • SciByte 103 | Martian Methane & Deep Impact | September 24, 2013
  • V-Charge Project
  • Car manufacturers are already making automated piloting features of their own – radar-based cruise control, anti-braking systems (ABS) and lane-control assistance
  • Cables and hydraulic pressure valves which previously linked the controls of the vehicle to its working parts are gradually being replaced with electronic circuits
  • The V-Charge Project is a consortium of companies and universities which is working on fully automated low-speed driving in cities using only cameras and other low-cost sensors mounted on standard cars
  • The consortium is working to produce detailed maps and a perception system that allows a vehicle to recognize its location and identify nearby pedestrians and vehicles, all using only stereoscopic or fisheye cameras.
  • The team has taken this a step further, pioneering a guidance system that works economically by using a single camera.
  • How Soon is Soon?
  • While companies such as Google see autonomous cars in a couple of decades the people with the CityMobil2 project think that they could be hitting the road sooner than that
  • The team believes that, in addition to teaching cars to respond autonomously to traffic conditions, traffic should be adapted to automated cars
  • In their current state of development, cybercars can already drive safely in pedestrian areas and designated lanes
  • The first CityMobil project shuttled passengers across the car park of London Heathrow airport in a fleet of driverless pods
  • CityMobil2, now brings specially designed automated vehicles to designated roads inside the city centre
  • Future Plans
  • The project plans to procure two sets of automated vehicles which will tour five cities in a series of demonstration projects each lasting six to eight months
  • Investors are at present deterred by their high initial investment and perceived risks.
  • CityMobil2 is bringing together experts from ministries in each member state to agree on technical requirements by the time the project concludes in 2016 that could feed into a future European directive on the issue
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Driverless Taxis in European Cities from 2014 |


Nighttime Smartphone Use

  • In a pair of studies surveying a broad spectrum of U.S. workers found that people who monitored their smart phones for business purposes after 9 p.m. were more tired and were less engaged the following day on the job.
  • Productivity and Sleep
  • More than half of U.S. adults own a smartphone and many consider the devices to be among the most important tools ever invented when it comes to increasing productivity of knowledge-based work
  • The National Sleep Foundation says only 40 percent of Americans get enough sleep on most nights a commonly cited reason is smartphone usage for work.
  • The Studies
  • The first study, the researchers had 82 upper-level managers complete multiple surveys every day for two weeks.
  • The second study surveyed 161 employees daily in a variety of occupations — from nursing to manufacturing and from accounting to dentistry
  • They showed that nighttime smartphone usage for business purposes cut into sleep and sapped workers\’ energy the next day in the office
  • The second study also compared smartphone usage to other electronic devices and found that smartphones had a larger negative effect than watching television and using laptop and tablet computers
  • In addition to keeping people mentally engaged at night, smartphones emit \”blue light\”
  • Blue light is the most disruptive of all colors of light and is known to hinder melatonin, a chemical in the body that promotes sleep
  • Nighttime use of smartphones appears to have both psychological and physiological effects on people\’s ability to sleep and on sleep\’s essential recovery functions
  • Johnson, MSU assistant professor of management
  • \”There may be times in which putting off work until the next day would have disastrous consequences and using your smartphone is well worth the negative effects on less important tasks the next day,\”
  • \”But on many other nights, more sleep may be your best bet.\”
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Nighttime smartphone use zaps workers\’ energy |

Football Helmet Safety Tech

  • The CDC estimates that between the 1.6 million and 3.8 million Americans suffer sports-related concussions every year, these concussions occur after what seems like a pretty mild blow to the head
  • In football, the risk of concussion has been a hot-button issue
  • Sensors
  • Sensors within helmets can catch what human eyes often miss, alerting people on the sidelines that a player may need to be taken out of play and screened for a concussion
  • Jake Merrell, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University created a smart foam that works within football helmets to measure how hard a player just got hit
  • Motion sensors transmit data wirelessly to a tablet or computer when the foam in the helmet is compressed by the player\’s head, measuring the force and acceleration of the impact.
  • What\’s Out Now
  • The helmet manufacturer Riddell debuted a similar concussion-alert product this year, called the InSite Impact Response System which is being used by some high school teams in the 2013 season.
  • Sensors inside the player\’s helmet lining measure the severity of a head impact and send an alert to the sidelines if a player has sustained a potentially concussion-inducing hit
  • Although this system only works in Riddell\’s Revolution Speed helmet so far.
  • What\’s Next
  • \”A coach will know within seconds exactly how hard their player just got hit\” | Jake Merrell, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University
  • He plans to submit his project to the Head Health Challenge sponsored by GE and the NFL
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Smart Foam In Football Helmets Measures Impact Of Each Hit | Popular Science


Chinese Lander, Chang’e 3, Panorama

  • Color of the Lunar Soil
  • The lander beamed back a series of new photos taken with its panoramic camera. stitched together, they give us a more detailed and colorful look of the rover’s surroundings in northern Mare Imbrium
  • Color images of the moon’s surface by the Apollo astronauts along with their verbal descriptions indicate a uniform gray color punctuated in rare spots by patches of more colorful soils
  • Apollo visited six different moonscapes – all essentially gray
  • One thing that stands out is the brown color of the lunar surface soil or regolith, it\’s possible that it is simply that the color balance in the Chinese images might be off. Or did Chang’e 3 just happen to land on browner soils
  • Multimedia
  • The six wheeled Yutu rover, which means ‘Jade Rabbit’, has “experienced a mechanical control abnormality” in a new report by China’s official government newspaper, The People’s Daily
  • ‘Jade Rabbit’ was traversing southwards from the landing site as the incident occurred just days ago – about six weeks into its planned 3 month moon roving expedition
  • Very few details have emerged or been released by the Chinese government about Yutu’s condition or fate
  • The abnormality occurred due to the “complicated lunar surface environment,” said the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence
  • Based on unofficial accounts, it appears that one of the solar panels did not fold back properly over Yutu’s mast after it was lowered to the required horizontal position into a warmed box to shield and protect it from the extremely frigid lunar night time temperatures
  • This could potentially spell doom for the mast mounted instruments and electronic systems, including the color and navigation cameras and the high gain antenna, if true
  • The event took place just prior to the beginning of the 2nd lunar night and ‘dormancy’ for both ‘Jade Rabbit’ and the Chang’e-3 each Lunar night also lasts approximately 14 Earth days
  • There is no communication possible during sleep mode, no one will know until the resumption of daylight some two weeks from now – around Feb. 8 to 9.
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Yutu rover Suffers Significant Setback at Start of 2nd Lunar Night | Chang\’e 3 Lander Beams Back New Lunar Panorama Photos |


  • Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring
  • On Oct. 19, 2014 comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will buzz Mars about 10 times closer than any identified comet has ever flown past Earth
  • Spacecraft at Mars might get a good look at the nucleus of comet Siding Spring as it heads toward the closest approach, roughly 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers) from the planet
  • Dust particles that the comet nucleus sheds this spring could threaten orbiting spacecraft at Mars in October
  • The level of risk won\’t be known for months, but NASA is already evaluating possible precautionary measures as it prepares for studying the comet
  • Observations of comet Siding Spring are planned using resources on Earth, orbiting Earth, on Mars and orbiting Mars, and some are already underway
  • Infrared imaging reveals a comet that is active and dusty, even though still nearly three-fourths as far from the sun as Jupiter is
  • Comet Viewing Experience
  • Researchers using spacecraft at Mars gained experience at trying to observe comet ISON approached Mars
  • That flyby distance was about 80 times farther than Siding Spring\’s will be
  • The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA\’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter could provide imagery with resolution of dozens of pixels across the diameter of the nucleus, when HiRISE observed comet ISON, the nucleus was less than one pixel across
  • Cameras on the Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity might watch for meteors in the sky that would be an indication of the abundance of particles in the comet\’s tail, though the geometry of the flyby would put most of the meteors in daytime sky instead of dark sky
  • The degree to which Siding Spring brightens this spring will be an indicator of how much hazard it will present to spacecraft at Mars
  • The path the nucleus will take is now known fairly well. The important unknowns are how much dust will come off the nucleus, when it will come off, and the geometry of the resulting coma and tail of the comet.
  • Spacecraft Safety
  • Orbiters are designed with the risk of space-dust collisions in mind
  • Over a five-year span for a Mars orbiter, NASA figures on a few percent chance of significant damage to a spacecraft from the background level of impacts from such particles, called meteoroids
  • If managers choose to position orbiters behind Mars during the peak risk, the further in advance any orbit-adjustment maneuvers can be made, the less fuel will be consumed
  • Multimedia
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Mars Science Laboratory: NASA Preparing for 2014 Comet Watch at Mars |


Looking back

  • February 1, 1811 : 203 years ago : Bell Rock Lighthouse Lit : The Bell Rock Lighthouse was lit for the first time. Using 24 lanterns, it began flashing its warning light, 11 miles out off the east coast of Scotland atop a white stone tower rising over 30m (100ft) high. It was built by Robert Stevenson on a treacherous sandstone reef, which, except at low tides, lies submerged just beneath the waves. Since then, no repair has been necessary to its stonework. It is the oldest sea-washed lighthouse in existence. It was Stevenson\’s finest achievement, regarded by many as the finest lighthouse ever built, the most outstanding engineering achievement of the 19th century. In the centuries before, the dangerous Bell Rock had claimed thousands of lives, as vessels were wrecked on its razor-sharp serrated rocks. Bell Rock Lighthouse | Wikipedia

Looking up this week

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