The Downlink • Jul 09, 2021
Cyclones and Storms and Flares, Oh My!
This week marked the fifth anniversary of NASA’s Juno spacecraft going into orbit around Jupiter. Take a look at our favorite images Juno has captured of this giant world over the years. This one shows Jupiter’s south pole covered in cyclones up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in diameter. Image credit: NASA et al.
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The Sun had a pretty intense solar flare recently — but don’t worry, everything’s OK. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory says that on July 3, the Sun experienced an intense burst of radiation categorized as an X1.5-class flare (pictured). The eruption caused a brief but noteworthy radio blackout on Earth. Image credit: NASA/SDO.
Astronauts have completed the first spacewalk outside China’s new space station. On July 4, astronauts Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo wrapped up work outside the Tianhe module. The team, assisted by astronaut Nie Haisheng inside Tianhe, installed and tested various pieces of equipment, including a panoramic camera and robotic arm.
Ingenuity, the little helicopter that could, proves once again it’s capable of anything. On its ninth flight, the Mars ‘copter set new records for distance, time aloft, and groundspeed, all while traversing a challenging region of terrain. Ingenuity flew for about 166 seconds at a speed of 5 meters per second (about 11 miles per hour).
From The Planetary Society
Do UFO reports tell us more about what’s out there or about what’s going on here on Earth? Sarah Scoles, author of the book They Are Already Here, which examines the culture and motivations behind ufology, joined Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition to discuss who does ufology and why, how journalism affects public perceptions, and how we should approach extraordinary claims with little supporting information. Pictured: A still from a video showing an unidentified object as recorded by a U.S. Navy jet. Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been cleared for launch later this year. This new instrument, expected to be 100 times as powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope, will no doubt reveal many more secrets of the cosmos. On this week’s Planetary Radio, host Mat Kaplan visits the Northrop Grumman clean room to see Webb in person and talk with three leaders of the effort to build, launch and deploy the mighty orbiting observatory.
Mars and Venus will appear together low in the western sky shortly after sunset, and on July 12th when they’ll be closer together than the width of a full Moon. Around midnight look to the eastern sky for bright Jupiter with Saturn yellowish to its upper right. Learn more at planetary.org/night-sky.
Wow of the Week
The Sun isn’t the only star to produce flares. In April 2021, astronomers announced the detection of a very large flare on our nearest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri. The flare was one of the most violent ever seen in our galaxy, with the star suddenly becoming 14,000 times brighter than usual in just a few seconds. Flares occur on Proxima Centauri much more frequently than on our Sun, potentially compromising the likelihood of life on the planets in orbit around it. This artist’s concept shows a huge flare coming from Proxima Centauri, with a planet in the distance. Image credit: S. Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF.