Looking Back to the Beginning of Our Universe

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The Big Bang theory states that the universe we know today emerged from extremely hot temperatures that began approximately 13 billion years ago. However, there is one important question still trying to be answered today. How was The Big Bang randomly started from nothing? Nobel laureate John C. Mather took on the Big Bang in his own way when he visited us for Lenox Laser’s second annual light seminar back in October of 2011, celebrating our 30th anniversary. The speech was titled “History of the Universe in a Nutshell: The Big Bang to Life and the End of Time.” Mather was also one of the brilliant minds that help design the James Webb telescope that just launched on Christmas 2021. Mather’s genius led him to help create a telescope that would examine galaxies and stars. Measuring things like their heat wavelength from the oldest of galaxies to the newest. He set out to find proof of predictions of the beginning and end of the universe and life itself. He stated that astronomers discovered many years ago the galaxies were made of stars and galaxies are moving away from us at insanely high speed. Mather mentioned scientists wanting to get to stars quicker but have no ways of accomplishing this, even to this day. He also discussed Einstein’s theories of the universe and how most scientists’ theories were thought of as fantastical nonsense. 

Mather asserted that the center of the Big Bang, its exact origin, could not be located, but according to a map of the Big Bang he was able to demonstrate that there were galaxies that were in the process of falling into themselves and headed into a dark void of nothingness and that the planets and stars could come from the beginning of minute particles almost impossible to see by the naked eye. With the Big Bang, the idea of its existing in one section of space and not expanding Mather stated as unacceptable and that it is ever-expanding with the end of it being potentially the end of the universe.

To watch the original recording of his speech, please visit our Youtube channel.

Or click here, to read our previous blog post discussing Dr. Mather’s speech.

James Webb Telescope Launch is Successful

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The James Webb space telescope successfully launched into the vastness of space Christmas day this year. This journey was long in the making, beginning back in 1996 when the telescope was first conceived by NASA. The shuttle transporting Webb took off at 12:20am UTC in French Ghana and the telescope is now on its way to becoming the successor to the Hubble. The initial live stream on YouTube ran for 2 hours and 17 minutes, allowing people around the globe to watch the journey unfold in real time. Webb will travel 100 million miles into orbit, taking approximately 29 days to reach its intended target, but will not be officially declared fully operational until approximately 180 days after the launch. Multiple attempts to launch have happened in the last few years, but with equipment delays, storms, and the ongoing pandemic, it was postponed several times. But all that waiting has finally paid off and the telescope is now on its way into orbit. The next step, which will take over six months, will be gradually unfolding the telescope’s massive mirrors, which are each the size of several football fields. Following that is aligning the mirrors and cooling them to an immensely cold -380°F.

Lenox Laser was directly involved in manufacturing components for the Webb, providing precise alignment targets for the infrared imaging system to assist with the readings it takes while scanning for the innermost secrets of our universe. You can read about other NASA projects we have been involved in on our blog. It has been an immense honor for us to be part of such an important scientific endeavor. The telescope is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and is expected to take on the task of filling in missing pieces of the Big Bang mystery that have eluded scientists for many years.

Webb marks the largest telescope ever put in space, being roughly the size of a large truck at 43.5 feet long and 14.2 feet in diameter, and cost of over $10 billion to construct. Scientists are looking at the 344 mechanisms on board the telescope as potentially 344 points of failure, meaning that each of them must strike the right balance in the first attempt, with no chance at sending repair crews to the telescope if a fault occurs. Everyone on the team at NASA are optimistic that deployment will be successful however, and with any hope the James Webb Space Telescope will revolutionize our understanding of the universe, giving us viewpoints never before possible.

Visit NASA’s website for more information and to keep up with all the latest updates on this monumental journey.

NASA Chief discusses the James Webb Telescope after launch

Curiosity Rover Discovers Organic Molecules on Mars

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The Mars Perseverance Rover has made great progress in exploring the mysterious red planet since its launch on July 30, 2020. The full audio recordings Perseverance collected while traversing the Martian surface, as well as the rustling of the planet’s solar winds had scientists and astronomy enthusiasts excited. The mission’s goal began last year by drilling for Martian rock samples in the Jezero crater. Analysis of data provided by Perseverance indicates that Mars may have had ancient flash floods in the area. The clarity of the images showing massive lake and river formations have scientists undoubtedly excited. The evidence gives insight into how Mars was formed, the planet’s hydrology, its layers and composition, among others. By the time studies from future launches in 2030 are complete, researchers hope to have collected approximately 30 samples for analysis. 

Initial attempts to collect Martian samples were conducted by the Curiosity Rover in 2016, but the larger drill bit shattered during its attempt on Mount Sharp, sidelining the mission for several years after. However, in the wake of this setback, NASA shifted gears to analyzing organic molecules present in loose samples the rover had previously collected. The ‘wet chemistry lab’ aboard Curiosity has only 9 cups of solvent and each one is single use, so samples must be chosen carefully and with great intention. The most difficult part of the experiment is collecting organic molecule samples without them breaking down into smaller molecules due to heat. The solvent avoids this problem by reacting with the compounds first to ensure they can be collected for analysis with the least risk of them breaking down. From the sand Curiosity had collected from Ogunquit Beach, researchers found ammonia, benzoic acid, among others, including several compounds that had not been found on Mars before. As of yet, no amino-acid like molecules have been discovered, so we still cannot conclusively say if there was life on Mars or not. 

Even if scientists are unable to discover proof of organic life on our red sister planet, the success of this new experiment paves the way for further research into not just extraterrestrial bodies, but our own planet.  

For more information, click here.  

Click here, to read some of Lenox Laser’s past blog posts covering NASA missions. 

Spectrometer Analysis of Exoplanets Revolutionizes Extraterrestrial Study

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NASA has explored planets a variety of ways in the past, from rockets to astronauts to satellites and probes.  Now, they have a new tool to aid in their passion for discovery, an instrument called NEID, a massive spectrometer that will do deep dive studies of exoplanets in and around our solar system. Exoplanets are planets that orbit around other existing stars, and over the summer, the new instrument brought back data from our sun. The spectrometer’s main purpose is to locate, categorize, and define new planets and their locations within the solar system, and it does so by detecting
small shifts in light from nearby stars. Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona is currently where NEID resides. Pointing at the sky, the spectrometer will bring back data that shows the mass, size, and environmental makeup of these exoplanets, giving scientists a better overall understanding of their habitability and even potential evidence of life
within them. Presently exoplanets are found by detecting light fluctuations within surrounding stars. The spectrometer will provide scientists more exact analysis of these planets as they are discovered, which until now had only been hypothesized. 

The spectrometer operates by splitting light into its various color wavelengths, which allows scientists to identify the molecular makeup of the exoplanets orbiting the star it is analyzing. It is not yet known when the findings of this study will be completed but the hope that it will give us further insight into our evolving understanding of the solar system around us and planets in general. 

Space is an ever-growing challenge to understand, but with today’s technology, solving its mysteries has never been more possible and whatever is found out there is sure to be treated with the utmost respect and will be one for the history books.

Click here, for more info on the NEID.

To see past Lenox Laser posts covering NASA milestones, click here.

Ingenuity Performing Far Beyond Expectations

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NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has been giving us some of the most breathtaking views of the planet. Two flights were successfully completed recently, flight number 12 on August 15 and number 13 this past Labor Day weekend. Fight 12 astounded scientists because of how far the simple prototype had come. The helicopter only weighs 1.8 kg and was initially designed to show what a simple vehicle could achieve exploring the planet. The original plan for the flight was to go to South Séítah, flying at a 10m altitude and traveling about 235m to get side-by-side detailed images of surface terrain clear enough to make a full 3-D image. During this time over 10 images would be captured, and then given to the Perseverance rover to determine further areas of the planet for study. Ingenuity has dealt with Mars’s harsh winds, dusty, rocky surfaces, craters, and volcanic activity.  The helicopter had been through an extremely rough flight from Earth when it was launched back in April of this year for its first trip. The goal of each flight is to learn as much as we can about Mars. With the atmosphere being only 1% of the density of Earth’s, ingenuity is navigating the planet with a high degree of difficulty, making exploration a bigger obstacle. 

Flight 13 was able to fly closer to the planet than any previous attempt, 13 also covered a shorter distance than its predecessor traveling 690 feet compared to 1476 feet on flight 12. The helicopter was never designed to be flying cameras when in prototype stage, so the fact it is accomplishing such feats and lasting long enough is astonishing to scientists. The photos from different directions may help uncover more angles and reveal hidden points of interest.  Overall, the team is excited by the results. We are excited to see what answers these discoveries will unlock about the red planet. 

To read the original article by NASA, click here

For past coverage Lenox Laser has written about Perseverance and Ingenuity, click here

Perseverance Faces Setback Following Initial Collection Attempt

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In an unfortunate turn of events, the Mars Perseverance rover has hit a snag while attempting to collect its first sample of Martian rock for analysis. Data sent to Earth indicated that the sample collection tube was empty after the collection process concluded. The team at NASA responsible for overseeing the mission are currently investigating the issue to determine the best course of action moving forward with future sample collection. They plan to utilize the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera located on the rover’s arm to collect initial data about the bore site in the hopes of drawing conclusions as to why the sample was not collected. The team remains optimistic that they will find a solution and be able to move forward with the mission. 

NASA has run into similar issues attempting to sample extraterrestrial matter in the past. The Phoenix mission sampled “sticky” soil that made collection and transport difficult, requiring multiple attempts before being successful. Curiosity encountered problems with Martian rock being harder and more brittle than expected. Most recently, the heat probe of the InSight lander failed to penetrate Mars’s surface as planned. 

Efforts are ongoing to formulate procedures moving forward with future sampling attempts. Success will provide scientists with immeasurable information about Mars and the possibility of, not just past microbial life, but also the viability of human colonization. 

To read more about this latest update from NASA, click here

If you are interested in last week’s blog covering the Perseverance Rover, click here

To read about Lenox Laser’s past involvement with space exploration efforts, click here

Collecting a Sample from Mars – NASA Perseverance Rover

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Mars has always been an endless treasure trove of mysteries, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Perseverance rover and the team behind it, we may soon have answers to some of the questions surrounding our red, rocky sister planet. Perseverance launched earlier this year on February 18th and has since been documenting the Martian surface with the powerful camera integrated into its system. Alongside high-resolution photography, the rover recorded 16 minutes of audio which captured the sound of winds blowing across the landscape. However, the team behind Perseverance plans to up the ante, looking to collect a physical rock sample to examine. The first sample will be taken from a section of the Jezero Crater called the “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough.” This task is scheduled to take 11 days due to the delay in communication between mission control and the rover itself. It is one of four samples to be collected over the next year of exploration, which will be stored within the rover’s body until missions can be sent to retrieve them for examination. During this time, Perseverance will perform rudimentary tests on the samples to provide preliminary data. The rover was fitted with several instruments that allow it to collect a range of data points. Key among these is SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), and the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera, which will provide mineral and chemical analysis of the sample rock. Using this data, scientists may be able to piece together more about the history of Mars and the viability of future exploration missions. Until now, procuring an extraterrestrial sample for examination was a monumental advancement only achieved by Niel Armstrong and the Apollo 11 crew when they collected moon rock from the Sea of Tranquility basin.

The key objective of Perseverance’s mission is to advance the field of astrobiology and look for definitive proof of microbial life having existed on Mars. Utilizing the data collected by the rover, the team hopes to pave the way for human exploration of the planet. Future NASA missions, with cooperation from the European Space Agency, plan to collect the samples stored within Perseverance’s frame and ship them to Earth for more extensive analysis that cannot be performed by the equipment built into the rover. Years of effort made this feat possible and will vastly expand our understanding of the wider universe around us.

If you are interested in reading more, click here for the article from NASA themselves, or click here for the LiveScience coverage. Want to learn more about past missions that Lenox Laser has covered, click here.

NASA Announces Two Missions to Venus

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NASA has announced to future missions that will hopefully shed more light on the mystery planet that is Venus. Venus has characteristics almost identical to Earth. However, currently, scientists know so little about the planet itself. When comparing Venus to Earth, both worlds have complex weather systems, size, atmospheric composition, and density. Both planets are near the sun, with Venus being thirty percent closer to it than Earth. Scientist also refer to Venus as Earth’s sister planet because of its volcanic activity, plateaus, and water availability. In order to help with lack of knowledge about the fiery planet, NASA has planned two missions codenamed DAVINCI+ and VERITAS to study the planet further. The mission’s primary goal is to design a detailed 3-D model of Venus to better understand the planet’s environmental makeup, features, activity atmosphere, and more.

With the excitement building of new exploration and understanding also comes new groundbreaking technology to aid discovery. Mission VERITAS will use technologies like an atomic clock in deep space with great precision that will allow spacecraft to traverse and approach the planet. Once this 3-D model of Venus is created, scientists believe that things like real-time evaluations of the planet will presumably be achievable. With $500 million given for the missions, NASA plans a launch date anywhere between 2028 and 2030. While this undertaking will undoubtedly be an immense challenge, the information that NASA could unlock with these missions could rewrite our understanding of Venus.

If you would like to read more about NASA’s missions, please click here.

The Moxie Box – NASA’s Oxygen Box

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Courtesy of NASA

               About a month and a half ago, NASA’s Perseverance rover made landfall on Mars, bringing audio and video skimming across the planet’s surface. NASA sent the rover to Mars on a mission that ended in February this year to search for signs of life on the planet by collecting many different rock samples and broken rock and soil mixture called regolith. Mars is not the safest environment for human exploration. Its harsh atmosphere is a mix of molecular oxygen, carbon monoxide, dioxide argon, and molecular nitrogen.

Carrying several thousand pounds of oxygen for any mission on a rocket can be challenging. NASA created a box codenamed Moxie to take on the challenge. The Moxie box is almost no larger than a car battery. However, it allows explorers to traverse the planet’s surface for longer because Moxie would convert Mars’s environment into breathable air for the astronauts. The Moxie box weighs in total about 33 pounds and cost about $50 million to make.

               The Moxie box works by siphoning carbon dioxide; then, theoretically, it would split molecules electrochemically into oxygen and carbon monoxide. The Moxie box would mix in a tremendous amount of oxygen with the carbon monoxide. Scientists have plans of making more extensive versions of the Moxie box. At its current size, it should be able to produce about 10 grams of oxygen per hour. The box consumes 300 Watts of power.

               Once perfected, this box would be a game-changer for astronauts and planetary exploration. With the successful use of the box on board the Perseverance rover in February 2021, it is hoped that larger-scale devices can be launched possibly sometime in 2030 and beyond.

If you would like to read more, click here for an article by Popular Mechanics.

NASA and SpaceX International Space Station Agreement

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The International Space Station (ISS) has a storied history. It took over 30 missions and thousands of person-hours to complete. It was clear that The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would need a space station to study the vastness of space in minute detail in the space age. The ISS began its construction in 1998 when the first segment launching in a Russian proton rocket on November 20 of that year. NASA engineers completed the massive station’s main parts in 2011, and the station has been occupied by astronauts and scientists since 2000. The ISS now enters its Golden age with a new agreement between SpaceX and NASA. 

The agreement allows SpaceX and NASA to work on any project together for the space station. The Starlink program by SpaceX, which is now the largest existing on the orbiting spacecraft group, is also part of the agreement. SpaceX recently launched 60 additional satellites for their internet network on March 24. This agreement is important as it allows both parties to work smoothly and in unison.

NASA’s taxi ride program, which is still in development with SpaceX, will allow quick and easy transport to and from the ISS on shorter missions. If all goes to plan, this taxi ride program could launch sometime in 2022 with NASA’s approval. Should the taxi ride program be successful, companies would plan additional missions, up to two per year, lasting a month each. Boeing is also interested in partnering on this venture.

This agreement is a huge step forward in the history of space exploration. It will be exciting to see what can be achieved in the future of the ISS. It will also help strengthen and speed up communication between the two parties. SpaceX is an upcoming launch on April 22 for the Falcon 9 Crew 2 mission.

If you wish to read more, click here for an article by TechCrunch and here for an article by phys.org.

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