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  • We may be able to fix Voyager 1!

We may be able to fix Voyager 1!

Also, what were those red spots on the sun during the eclipse?

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Voyager 1’s glitch may have a fix!

Well, there’s some fantastic news from the Voyager 1 team.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If you’ve missed my previous updates, basically, since November, engineers at NASA’s JPL haven’t received any meaningful communication from Voyager 1. The spacecraft, which is now in interstellar space about 15 billion away from Earth, has been sending gibberish back for months.The spacecraft’s FDS, or flight data system, which is responsible for collecting Voyager 1’s science and engineering data into a neat package and transmitting it to the TMU (or telemetry modulation unit). Well, the TMU was sending back gibberish in binary (0s and 1s), and the team figured the problem was somewhere in the FDS.

In March, they sent a “poke” to Voyager 1, which was designed to encourage the spacecraft to try to reroute around any corrupted systems. Remember that it takes 45 hours each way to communicate with Voyager, so troubleshooting can be complicated. Well, it ended up sending back an entire readout of the FDS memory.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now, engineers have determined that that 3 percent of the FDS memory is corrupted, which is preventing Voyager 1’s computer from carrying out normal operations. The culprit? Likely a chip that stores some of the FDS memory went bad. It’s possible that the chip went bad — it’s been 46 years — or it’s possible it got hit with some sort of energetic particle or cosmic ray.

So that’s the good news — they’re optimistic they can find a way for the FDS to work without this chip. The bad news is that it’ll take a few more months to determine what to do, implement it, and get Voyager 1 back in working condition. I’ll keep you updated!

The moon may have turned inside out

Did the moon turn itself inside out?

That’s what new research may be telling us. 

Credit: NASA

Scientists think that around 4.5 billion years ago, a Mars-sized planet (that some call Theia) may have slammed into a proto Earth. (There may be pieces of Theia buried deep within the Earth’s mantle, if you want to know more about that, check out my video.) Our moon formed out of the molten debris from this collision.

This is called the giant impact hypothesis, and it’s the prevailing theory for how the moon formed. But there hasn’t been wide-scale agreement on HOW the moon coalesced from these pieces. But now, there’s a new paper in Nature Geoscience that may provide the answer.

One thing that’s puzzled scientists about the moon for awhile is that some areas of the moon, on the side facing Earth, have a much higher concentration of titanium than expected — as much as 10 times that of rocks here on Earth. 

Back in 2010, scientists constructed this image of the moon from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter data, which is a spacecraft in orbit of the moon. You can see in this photo that Mare Tranquilitatis looks much more blue than Mare Serenitatis.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

This is because of the presence of titanium. And it’s concentrated on the side of the moon facing the Earth, not the far side. 

After the moon coalesced, it had a magma ocean that quickly solidified as the crust we see today, but underneath things were kind of a mess. The denser material sunk further into the moon’s mantle (A previous paper in Nature Geoscience tells us that the reason certain dense elements might be concentrated on the near side of the moon might be because a giant impact on the far side caused them to migrate and then sink. This giant impact, that 2022 paper says, is what created the giant South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest impact crater on the moon.)

This elevation map of the moon makes the South Pole-Aitken basin clear: It’s the large purple-blue area, credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

So, then, how did they get back to the surface? This paper posits that after these titanium-rich deposits migrated, they sank in sheets, creating detectable anomalies in the moon’s gravitational field.

Middle is titanium concentration, right is the gravity anomalies, Credit: Adrien Broquet/University of Arizona

The scientists analyzed these and mapped out the distribution of the remnants. From there, the moon re-deposited the material on the surface through lava flows, which is how the moon turned itself inside out.

What did the eclipse look like from space?

The total eclipse of 2024 is over now, but there’s still going to be a lot of cool stuff coming out of it. I’m really looking forward to results from the science that NASA was doing during the eclipse, but until we have some results, this is a very cool.

If you were lucky enough to experience totality, you may have noticed that everything got very dark and the temperature dropped. Here’s the thing: that wasn’t all due to the sun’s light getting blocked. It’s because of the path of the moon’s shadow along the Earth when it blocks out the sun during totality.

When the sun is behind the moon, not only the moon fully block it from our perspective, but it casts a shadow on the Earth. That’s especially clear when you see the eclipse from space. 

Here are a few very cool views of totality from up above us:

Credit: NASA

This is from the International Space Station.It was serendipitous that they caught the path of totality.

Credit: ESA

Now this is a wider view from NASA’s GOES-16 weather satellite.

It’s pretty cool, huh?

The red dot during totality: A solar prominence

And speaking of the eclipse, if you were lucky enough to experience totality, did you notice a red spot near the bottom of the sun? That was a solar prominence, and there was a distinct one on display during the eclipse.

Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

A solar prominence is a bright loop of cool plasma and magnetic field that extends outward from the sun. We still don’t know exactly why they form, they are sometimes tied to sunspots, which are cooler, darker regions on the sun’s surface, but we know that when they occur, it’s due to magnetic field lines forming loops that hold plasma to the sun’s chromosphere in these structures. The sun’s chromosphere is a thin layer between its corona, or upper atmosphere, and the photosphere, which is the sun’s visible surface.

Credit: NASA

Solar prominences usually take a day or so to form, and can persist for months. They’re absolutely huge — the biggest solar prominences can be bigger than even the largest planets in our solar system. The typical size of a solar prominence, though, is about 10 times the diameter of our planet.

During a total eclipse, you can occasionally see solar prominences as looped reddish spots extending outward from the sun. Their reddish color comes from their hydrogen emission. It’s important to note that the sun’s chromosphere also appears red during an eclipse, because of its hydrogen and helium, but it doesn’t look like a distinct spot the way a solar prominence does.

The bright spot on the left is a solar flare, credit: NASA/SDO

If you’re wondering what the differences between solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and solar prominences are, remember a solar prominence is cool plasma and magnetic field attached to the sun’s chromosphere. Solar flares are bursts of radiation and energetic particles from the sun that aren’t attached to our star, while CMEs are bursts of magnetic fields and plasma from the sun. A CMEs is different than a solar prominence because it’s not attached to the sun, is not relatively stable like a solar prominence, and is instead ejected outward into space. CMEs and solar flares also can affect the Earth, while solar prominences don’t really affect our planet

Launches: Final flight of the Delta IV Heavy and one step closer to Starship

And in rocket news, the Delta IV Heavy rocket launched for the last time. This rocket from ULA, or United Launch Alliance, finally lifted off on Tuesday, April 9, after a scrub on the original launch date of March 28. 

The Delta IV Heavy flew a total of sixteen missions, including the first test flight of the Orion capsule for NASA’s Artemis program. It will be replaced by the Vulcan rocket, which launched the Astrobotic Peregrine lander earlier this year. That maiden launch went smoothly for the rocket, but the lander suffered a critical fuel loss after deployment and ended up burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Credit: SpaceX

AND — we are one more step closer to the fourth test launch of SpaceX’s Starship. The company conducted a static fire test of the Super Heavy booster on April 5. The company is still targeting early May for this test, but that is of course dependent on a launch license from the FAA. The FAA hasn’t yet closed its mishap investigation into the third test flight.

That JWST eclipse photo that’s been going around isn’t from JWST (but it’s not AI either!)

You may have seen this picture going around.

Credit: Cathrin Machin

I’ve seen it multiple times, posted from many different people across social networks, claiming this is a photo of the eclipse taken by JWST.

First: JWST is a million miles away from Earth at Lagrange Point 2. It wasn’t in the path of totality. There’s no way it would have been in the position to take a photo of the eclipse this week.

Second, JWST is positioned at Lagrange Point 2 because it is designed to study the furthest reaches of the universe as an infrared optimized telescope. Its location means that, at any given time, the Earth is between the observatory and the sun because JWST needs to stay as dark as possible. On top of that, for any stray light that might leak through, JWST has a sun shield to protect it from the sun. If JWST is pointing straight at our sun, something has gone severely wrong.

I was able to track down the original image, because I think attribution is very important.

This is an original photo taken by Sebastian Voltmer of the 2017 eclipse.

Cathrin Machin, a space artist, made a digital painting based on that photograph, and I believe what is being passed off as a JWST photo is Cathrin’s painting.

So don’t share anything that says that this photo is from JWST, and instead, maybe take a look at Sebastian Voltmer’s photos and buy some of Cathrin Machin’s artwork.