SpaceTime Series 25 Episode 116
*NASA’s Dragonfly mission to the distant world of Titan
NASA have undertaken a major survey of the Saturnian moon Titan’s Selk crater region which will be one of the primary targets of the Dragonfly helicopter mission in 2034.
*Crunch time for Perseverance’s search for life on the red planet
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover has started collecting rock core samples from an area long considered to be a top prospect for finding signs of ancient microbial life on Mars – if it ever existed.
*A partial solar eclipse
Parts of the northern Hemisphere have experienced a spectacular partial solar eclipse as the Moon blocked out part of the Sun over most of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and western parts of Asia.
*India launches 36 OneWeb satellites
India has replaced Russia launching 36 OneWeb internet satellites into orbit for the London based company.
*The Science Report
People with severe COVID-19 have a higher risk of developing serious heart problems.
Study shows that few teens who start gender-affirming hormone treatments end up changing their minds.
New study shows that cats know when you're talking to them.
Skeptic's guide: Do you need to be nuts to believe in ghosts?
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SpaceTime Series 25 Episode 116 AI Transcript
Stuart: This is Spacetime Series 25, episode 116, for broadcast on 31 October 2022. Coming up on Space Time NASA's Dragon helicopter mission to the distant world of Titan. Crunch time for NASA's Perseverance rovers search for life on the Red Planet, Mars and parts of the Northern hemisphere experience a spectacular partial solar eclipse. All that and more, coming up on Space Time.
VO: Welcome to Spacetime with Stewart gary.
Stuart: NASA has undertaken a major survey of the Satani moon Titan Silic crater region, which will be one of the primary targets of the Dragonfly helicopter mission. In 2034, the 450 kg Dragonfly will be a largest successor to the one eight kg Mars Ingenuity Rotocopter, which has been exploring the Jesro crater region of the Red Planet since arriving there in February 2021. Aboard the Mars Perseverance rover, dragonfly will initially land in dunes to the southeast of the Silic impact structure, at the edge of a dark region called Shangrila. It'll explore this region in a series of flights up to 8 km long each, and acquire samples from selected areas with interesting geography. After landing on Titan, it'll travel to the Silic impact crater, where, in addition to organic compounds, there's also evidence of past liquid water. The Silic crater is a geologically young impact structure some 90 kilometres in diameter, uh, located about 800 kilometres north northwest of the 2005 Huygens landing site. Now, a region like this, featuring a mix of organic compounds and water ice, has got to be a compelling target to assess, see how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed on the surface of this distant world. Titan is Saturn's largest moon. In fact, it's the second biggest moon in the solar system and larger than the planet. Mercury 550 km wide world is 50% larger than the Earth's moon and some 80% more massive. Importantly, it's the only world in our solar system other than Earth where clouds rain liquid under the ground, which form streams and rivers that flow into lakes and seas. But unlike Earth's waterbased hydrological cycle, the rains on um Titan are made of methane and ethane. On um Titan, temperatures are so cold, the water is frozen so hard, it forms part of the bedrock. Titan's atmosphere is about ten times as thick as Earth's, and it's primarily nitrogen laced with methane and ethane, a hydrocarbon soup which the early primordial Earth may also have had in its past. Scientists are now, ah, characterizing the Silk crater region to help make the 2034 landing of Dragonfly as smooth as possible. Their findings, reported in the Planetary Science Journal, describes the region as a humicky noLike landscape of sand dunes and broken up icy ground near the moon's equator. To reach their conclusions, the authors analyze radar images from the area acquired by the Cassini spacecraft during its 13 year exploration of the Satanian system. They used radar reflectivity in angled shadows to determine the properties of the surface, looking at composition, roughness and topography from radar backscatter. Uh, mission scientist Leah Bonafoy from Cornell University says Dragonfly will be the first flying machine to explore a world in the outer solar system. She says while it does rain liquid methane on Titan, it's only sometimes. And the rest of the time, Titan is more dry than a desert on Earth, a place where you have dunes, some little mountains, and, of course, the Silk impact crater. Uh, Bonafoying colleagues are looking closely at the landing site, its structure, and its surface features. To do that, they're examining radar, uh, images from the Cassini Huygens mission, looking at how the radar signal changes when viewed from different angles. The problem is, the radar images of Titan through Cassini have a best resolution of only about 300 meters per pixel, and scientists have only seen less than 10% of this world's surface at that scale. That means there are probably lots of small rivers and landscape features that they simply couldn't discern. Early in the Cassini mission, back in January 2005, the spacecraft's Huygen landed descended for some 2 hours, gradually floating down into an Earthlike environment, at least in terms of appearance, and sending back pictures of streams and river valleys that were invisible in the radar images. Hoygens eventually touched down on the surface, best described as feeling like cold, wet sand. NASA's Dragonfly mission is slated to launch in 2027, arriving at Titan in 2034 for a three year stay. Unlike the tissue box sized ingenuity, dragonfly will look more like a military transport helicopter. Uh, Titans heavens mostly nitrogen with a dash of methane four times denser than the Earth's atmosphere, enables the car sized Dragonfly to perform like a drone. It'll carry out research in chemical composition and astrobiology in order to better understand this distant world's makeup and how life on Earth may have evolved. This report from NASA TV.
Speaker C: Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere and a frozen surface rich in organic molecules. In 2034, a NASA mission called Dragonfly will arrive at Titan and study its chemical makeup. Dragonfly is a rotor craft designed to visit multiple sites across the moon's varied terrain. At M, each new landing site on Titan surface, dragonfly uses a pulse neutron generator and onboard GammaRay sensor to detect key elements, such as carbon and hydrogen in organic materials or oxygen in water ice. Dragonfly determines if there are well defined layers of these materials just below the lander. For a closer inspection, Dragonfly uses its drill to generate tailings from Titan's hard, frozen surface. These surface samples can then be ingested through the Pneumatic system, carried with Titan air into the chilled sample lines and to the sample collection carousel. One of the carousel sample cups is placed in a Pneumatic port. The cup captures the surface material from the cold air stream and transfers it to the chemical laboratory for measurement. Pulses from a laser release large organic molecules from the surface sample for analysis. In the mass spectrometer. The mass spectrometer sorts molecules by mass and measures diagnostic fragments that tell Dragonfly the kinds of chemical components that are present in the surface and whether there are molecules of prebiotic interest for those potential prebiotic samples. A new cup is placed into an oven and heated to release molecules into a gas chromatograph. Where they are sorted for size and type before entering the mass spectrometer. This advanced separation of organic components includes isolating molecules with the same formula, but different chiral arrangements or handedness. Having a preference for onehandedness over another is a key biosignature for life on Earth. When the chemical analysis is complete, dragonfly may choose to take another surface sample or find a new location on Titan to investigate.
Stuart: This is space time. Still to come, crunch time for NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover uh, as it continues its search for evidence of past life on the Red Planet. Mars and parts of the Northern Hemisphere experience a partial solar eclipse, providing people in most of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East and western parts of Asia with a celestial spectacular. All that and more still to come. I'm spacetime NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover has started collecting rock samples from an area long considered to be a top prospect of finding signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet, if it ever existed there. The six world rover has been traveling over an ancient Martian river delta in the Red Planet's Jet Row crater ever since July. The car sized mobile laboratories already collected four samples of sediments which had washed down from further upstream billions of years ago. This now brings to twelve the total number of samples collected by Perseverance for eventual return to Earth. NASA's Associate Administrator for Science, Thomas Abuchen says just where a crater was selected as the preferred landing site for Perseverance because it had the best chance of providing scientifically excellent samples. The 45 km wide crater hosts a fanshaped delta that formed about three and a half billion years ago at the convergence of a Martian river and lake. Perseverance is currently investigating the delta's sedimentary rocks, which form when particles of various sizes settled in the once water environment. During its first scientific campaign, the river explored the cratus floor, finding igneous rock which formed deep underground from magma or on the surface, from volcanic activity. Perseverance project scientist Ken Fairley from Caltech in Pasadena, California, says the delta, with its diverse sedimentary rocks, contrasts beautifully with the igneous rocks formed from crystallization of magma discovered on the crater floor. This juxtaposition provides scientists with a rich understanding of the geological history after the crater formed. For example, Perseverance found a sandstone that contains grains and rock fragments created far from Jesro Crater and a mudstone that includes intriguing organic compounds. Wildcat Ridge is the name given to a meter wide rock that likely formed billions of years ago. As mud and fine sand sediments settled in an evaporating saltwater lake, the rover abraded some of the surface of Wildcat Ridge for analysis by Sherlock sherlock's the Scanning Habitable Environments with Ramen and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals instrument. Its analysis indicates the samples feature a class of organic molecules especially correlated with those of sulfate minerals. Sulfate minerals found in layers of sedimentary rock enumed significant information about the aqueous environments in which they formed. The organic molecules consist of a wide variety of compounds made primarily of carbon and usually include hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but they can also contain other elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. While there are lots of chemical processes that produce these molecules that don't require life, some of these compounds, nevertheless, are the building blocks of life. So the presence of these specific molecules is considered to be a potential biasignature, a substance or structure that could be evidence of past life, but which may also have been produced without the presence of life at all. Back in 2013, Perseverance's sister Over Curiosity, which is currently exploring Gail Crater in another part of Mars, uh, found evidence of organic matter in rock powder samples. And perseverance has also detected organics in Jesrow Crater before. But unlike that previous discovery, this lattice detection was made in an area where, in the distant past, sediments and salts were deposited into a lake under conditions in which life could potentially have existed. In fact, in its analysis of Walcat Ridge, sherlocks registered the most abundant organic detections of the mission to date. Fairly says that in the distant past, the sand, mud and salts that now make up Wildcat Ridge were deposited under conditions in which life could potentially have thrived. The fact that organic matter was found in such a sedimentary rock known for preserving fossils of ancient life on Earth is important. However, as capable as the instruments of Perseverance are, further conclusions regarding exactly what's contained in the walk out ridge samples will have to wait until those samples are returned to Earth for indepth study as part of NASA's Mars Sample return mission with the European Space Agency. And that's unlikely to be happening for at least another eight years. Along with its rock core samples, the rovers also collected an atmospheric sample and two witness tubes, all of which are stored in the rover's cache. The geological diversity of the samples already collected in the rover are now so good that mission managers are considering depositing selected sample tubes near the base of the Delta in about two months time. After depositing the cache, the rover will then continue exploring the Delta region. This report from NASA TV.
Guest: The most detailed image ever taken on the surface of Mars, captures some of the sedimentary rocks that scientists came to the Red Planet to study. NASA's Perseverance Mars rover is now exploring a really important part of Jesuro Crater. Around three 5 billion years ago, a river flowed into Lake Jesuro, depositing mud and sand on the crater floor, forming an ancient delta. Darker, gray, layered rocks make up the roughly 32 foot tall cliff. You can see very clear horizontal layers in these rocks. Pieces of the cliff have broken off and tumbled downhill. One of the more interesting ones is the three foot tall boulder called Betty's Rock, which Perseverance was able to get a closer look at. These rocks have been sitting on the surface of Mars for billions of years, and over that time, wind erosion has shaped the surface into pretty interesting forms. Immediately surrounding the rover is an area called Hogwallow Flats, previously known as the Bacon Strip. Based on its appearance in orbital images, we think these are some of the finest grained sedimentary rocks deposited in the Delta. Finegrained rocks are important because they're typically really good places to look for signs of ancient life. We'd plan to do up to five abrasions on the rocks in this area. That's where we use our drill to expose a fresh surface, which allows us to analyze the chemistry and mineralogy. But Mars threw us some curve balls, and these softer rocks didn't always cooperate. The rock crumbled during the abrasion, preventing us from analyzing the spot. We had two unlucky abrasion attempts in this area before achieving success at the Skinner Ridge outcrop here. We collected our first two rock core samples from the Delta, and since then, we've collected two more. Perseverance drove to the delta because it is a very promising place to look for signs of ancient life. We hope to learn more when a future mission brings these samples back to Earth. So far, we are excited by what we've collected.
Stuart: This is space time. Still to come, the Northern Hemisphere experiences a partial solar eclipse. India replaces Russia, launching 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit after Moscow was boycotted over its invasion of Ukraine. And later in the Science Report, a new study shows that Cats not only know when we're talking to them, but they've probably got a good idea what we're saying as well. All that and more still to come on, um, space time. Parts of the Northern Hemisphere have experienced a spectacular partial solar eclipse. The event on October 25, was seen from most of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and western parts of Asia, including India. Weather permitting, the best views were in Russia, where some 82% of the Sun's disk was covered by the transiting moon. London and Rome managed about 15% coverage. Berlin had 32%, and Helsinki, 54%. Matches the view from the roof of Stockman's. The eclipse was the last of two solar eclipses, both partial for 2022. And there'll be a lunar eclipse on November 7 or 8th, depending where you are, as the full Moon slides through the Earth's uh, shadow. The next solar eclipse will be in Australia. That'll be on April 2023, when people on the Exmouth Peninsula in Western Australia will be able to experience about a minute of totality, as will those in Timor and West Papua. As for American listeners, you'll need to wait until April 8, 2024. That's when you're in for a real treat with a celestial spectacle, as a total solar eclipse cuts a 200 kilometer wide path of totality lasting about four minutes from Texas right through to Maine. Solar eclipses happen because although the Moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, it's also 400 times closer, and so the two appear to be about the same size when seen from Earth. Now, normally, the Moon's orbit around the Earth appears to cross the sky slightly above or below the path of the sun. But roughly every 18 months or so, the Moon's orbit places it directly between the sun and the Earth during New Moon, resulting in a solar eclipse. And because of that same alignment, a lunar eclipse will occur during the full Moon, either two weeks before or two weeks after the solar eclipse takes place. India has replaced Russia, launching 36 OneWeb Internet satellites into orbit. The switch from the Russian federal space agencies Cosmos to Israel, the Indian Space Research Organization, follows the West's boycott of Russian products and services in the wake of the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine, india used its biggest launch vehicle at GSLV Mark Three for the mission, which was flown from the Shatista One Space Center, uh, in Shiriakota, uh, on the Bay of Bengal coast. This latest mission means One Web now have 462 satellites flying. That's more than 70% of what the company says it needs in order to provide a global broadband service. Overall, OneWeb is planning a constellation of 648 of its 150 kilogram Ku Band satellites, which will be placed into twelve near polar orbits at an altitude of 1200 km. With Russia now out of the game, OneWeb planning at least one more launch with India and three with SpaceX in order to get their constellation finished. This is spacetime and time. Now to take a brief look at some of the other stories making use in science this week with a science report. A new study warns that people with severe COVID-19 have a higher risk of developing a range of serious heart problems compared to those who suffered a molder infection. The findings, reported in the journal Heart huh, compared nearly 180 people who had COVID-19, about 3500 of whom were hospitalized, with nearly 360 people who weren't infected. Researchers found that those who had serious COVID 19 but weren't hospitalized were about three times more likely to develop a blood clot than those who didn't have the virus and were more than ten times as likely to die from any cause. However, those hospitalized due to COVID-19 still had a far higher risk of developing a blood clot, along with major increases in the risk for heart failure, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, swelling and heart attack, especially during the first month after infection. The latest revised figures suggest that some six 6 million people have now been killed by the covered 19 coronavirus since it was first detected near China's Wuhan Institute of Urology around September 2019. However, the World Health Organization says the true death toll is likely to be over 15 million, with some 634,000,000 confirmed cases globally. While the Lancet Commission, a panel of world leading experts in policy and disease management, estimates that around 18 million people have now died because of COVID-19, it's been revealed that very few teenagers who start gender affirming hormone treatments end up changing their minds. The findings reported in the Lancet Medical Journal are ah based on health records for some 720 Dutch people with gender dysphoria who started gender affirming hormone treatment as adolescents. The authors found that 704 or 98% of those people were still continuing with their treatments during followups up to the age of 20. Of the 720 people, 220 were transitioning from male to female, while 500 were transitioning from female to male. For those transitioning from male to female, the average age treatment starts was 14 and the average age at followup was 20. For those transitioning from female to male, treatment usually started an average age of about 16, and the average age at followup was 19. Just 16 people, 2% were no longer transitioning when followed up. The authors say it's not clear whether this is because they regretted transitioning or for some other reasons. A new study has confirmed something cat owners have long known cats know when you're talking to them, and they've got a pretty good idea what you're saying too. A report in the journal Animal Cognition found that cats change their behavior when they hear their owner's voice talking to them, but not when they hear the same tone directed at another person, or when they hear the voice of a stranger. Scientists set out to understand whether cats knew they were being talked to by using recorded voices of owners and strangers saying phrases in both cat directed and human adult directed tones, and with the tones sometimes switching during the recordings. The authors found that the cats seemed to become far more active when they heard their owners using a cat directed tone, but didn't react or care when their owners spoke in an out loud directed tone or when strangers spoke in either tone. While this study only involves 16 cats, the findings were conclusive and shed light on their dare I say? Attitude towards humans, as well as the cat's ability to both distinguish who's talking and who they're talking to. The authors concluded that onetoone relationships are important for cats and humans in order to form strong bonds. A new study has found that the more you believe in the paranormal, the more likely you are to have some sort of mental health issues. The findings reported in the journal Frontiers of Psychology wanted to determine whether such beliefs actually indicate maladaptive psychological profiles. The authors surveyed some 4500 British citizens on their beliefs in the paranormal, their mental health, and their general sense of wellbeing. They wound up identifying four distinct subgroups. 16% of those interviewed showed high levels of paranormal beliefs and also psychopathology, 19% demonstrated high levels of paranormal beliefs and unusual experiences, but with more moderate levels of psychopathology. 20% showed moderate levels of both paranormal beliefs and psychopathology, and 46% demonstrated both low levels of paranormal beliefs and psychopathology. Tim mendem from Australian Skeptics says those exhibiting both high levels of paranormal beliefs and psychopathology exhibited far worse mental wellbeing, scoring lower on, uh, measures of life satisfaction and higher stress and physical ill health compared to those in the upper profile groups.
VO: This is a study that was done recently by some people in cognitive psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. They did a survey of so many thousand Brits to try and get an indication of their belief, the level of their belief in the paranormal, and their level of psychopathology, if you like, of mental stability. And it's trying to say, is there any link between beings that are mentally unstable and belief in the paranormal? And they say that their data shows that it's an incorrect assumption that belief in the paranormal is directly associated with poor psychology functioning or adjustment. So they're saying that you can't say that people are weird, therefore they believe weird things. But the thing is, most skeptics would not say that you are mentally unstable to believe in the paranormal. Right. There is motivations for believing in the paranormal, and not necessarily purely psychological things, because we know many, many people who are perfectly stable, but who have strange beliefs. Then again, what this data says seems to be the opposite of, uh, what it claims. It says because it found out that the people who are the highest level of belief in the paranormal also have the highest level of psychopathology and issues with their mental stability. And the people down to lower end, medium belief, low belief in paranormal, have low psychopathological sort of, uh, conditions. So in fact, what this survey says seems to say, at least at a very superficial level, is that people who believe in the paranormal do have various issues with coping with the world as it is today. That's one of their coping mechanisms. Exactly. And this is saying, well, for me, I don't take away their coping mechanisms. Fair enough. Yes, you can't know you don't. But I mean, it's a weird thing that it's a particular bit of research, and you see this all the time in research, which sort of wants to say something, and it seems to say something else, and of course they don't want to offend, but it always comes down to needs more research is the final result.
Stuart: That's just because they want more money for research.
VO: That's exactly right. But this is psychological research, et cetera. But there's a lot of sociology research, et cetera, which is uncertain, and it's really hard to pin down what the results should be. But sometimes the conclusions don't seem to match the data surprisingly well.
Stuart: That's because, and we discussed this previously on the show, that's because when it comes to psychology, the sample sizes are too small and everyone is an individual.
VO: Yes, that's the trouble with human beings. But then you try and find an average. But this has about 4000 people at Survey. It wasn't too bad, right? It's not quite hundreds of thousands, but it's a decent size. But not just 30 people, which usually in some research do anything here. Go away.
Stuart: That's Tim Endom from Australian Skeptics. And that's the show for now. Spacetime is available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Apple Podcast, itunes, Stitcher, Google Podcast, Pocket Casts, Spotify, Acast, Amazon Music, Bytes.com, SoundCloud, YouTube, your favorite podcast download provider and From Spacetime with Stuartgary.com. Spacetime's. Also broadcasts through the National Science Foundation on science owned radio and on both iHeartRadio and tune in radio. And you can help to support our show by visiting the Spacetime Store for a range of promotional merchandising. Goodies. Or by becoming a Spacetime patron, which gives you access to triple episode, commercial free versions of the show, as well as lots of bonus audio content which doesn't go to Air, access to our exclusive Facebook group and other rewards. Just go to Spacetime with Stewartgary.com for full details. And if you want more spacetime, please check out our blog, where you'll find all the stuff we couldn't fit in the show, as well as heaps of images, news stories, loads of videos and things on the web I find interesting or amusing. Just go to spacetimewithStuartgary.Tumblr.com. That's all one word and that's Tumblr without the e. You can also follow us through at stuartgary on Twitter, and at Spacetime with Stuartgary on Instagram, through our Spacetime YouTube channel and on Facebook. Just go to Facebook.com/spacetime with Stuartgary and Spacetime is brought to you in collaboration with Australian Sky and Telescope magazine, your window on the Universe
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