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2020 Mars rover will land near Jezero Crater

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, NASA announced that it has chosen Jezero Crater as the landing site for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission. The site was selected after a five year search, during which every available detail of more than 60 candidate locations on the Red Planet were scrutinized and debated by the mission team and the planetary science community.

“The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life.”

The rover mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 as NASA’s next step in exploration of the Red Planet. It will search for signs of not ancient habitable conditions, including past microbial life. The rover will collect rock and soil samples and store them in a cache on the planet’s surface. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are studying future mission concepts to retrieve the samples and return them to Earth, so this landing site sets the stage for the next decade of Mars exploration.

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Western Isidis presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer. Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide crater was once home to an ancient river delta and could have collected and preserved ancient organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater billions of years ago. Jezero Crater’s ancient lake-delta system offers many promising sampling targets of at least five different kinds of rock, including clays and carbonates that have high potential to preserve signatures of past life. In addition, the material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater. That geologic diversity is what makes the Jezero Crater so appealing to Mars 2020 scientists.

“The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies.”

Landing a rover at Jezero crater presents a challenge for the team’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineers. Along with the massive nearby river delta and small crater impacts, the site contains numerous boulders and rocks to the east, cliffs to the west, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms (wind-derived ripples in sand that could trap a rover) in several locations.

The mission engineers have refined the landing system such that they were able to reduce the Mars 2020 landing zone to an area 50 percent smaller than that for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover at Gale Crater in 2012. This allowed the science community to consider more challenging landing sites like Jezero Crater. The sites of greatest scientific interest led NASA to add a new capability called Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN). TRN will enable the “sky crane” descent stage, the rocket-powered system that carries the rover down to the surface, to avoid hazardous areas.

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“Nothing has been more difficult in robotic planetary exploration than landing on Mars,” said Zurbuchen. “The Mars 2020 engineering team has done a tremendous amount of work to prepare us for this decision. The team will continue their work to truly understand the TRN system and the risks involved, and we will review the findings independently to reassure we have maximized our chances for success.”

A final report will be presented to an independent review board and NASA Headquarters in the fall of 2019.

Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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Scientists believe that Mars is 4.6 billion years old (~slightly older than Earth) and that early Mars had seas, an atmosphere, and perhaps life; but Mars is smaller than Earth so over time its molten iron core cooled off. Without the internal core rotation, Mars lost its magnetic field. Without a magnetic field it began losing it’s atmosphere to outer space. Water that evaporated was lost to space instead of returning to the surface as rain or snow and slowly most of the planet’s surface water dried up and Martian life either went extinct or is relegated to some minor habitat we have not yet discovered. It is an intriguing theory; but scientists are still trying to prove that all of that happened. Mars Rover 2020 hopes to add to our knowledge of Mars.

Huntsville is the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.  Thousands of Alabama workers are employed by NASA and the American aerospace industry.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Elections

Coalition of attorneys general file opposition to Alabama attempt to ban curbside voting

The AGs argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A coalition of 17 state attorneys general have filed an opposition to Alabama’s attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban curbside voting. 

In a friend-of-the-court brief, led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, the attorneys general argue to that curbside voting is safer for those at greatest risk from COVID-19, and that a ban on the practice would disproportionately impact the elderly, the disabled and Black Alabamians.

They also argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

“The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, established by President Trump following the 2016 election, ‘uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud,’” the brief states, adding that there is no evidence that curbside voting in the many states that allow it invites fraud. 

“The practice is longstanding and widespread—as noted, more than half of states have historically offered curbside voting in some form,” the brief continues. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Oct. 13 said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling allowing curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 ordered ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

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The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions. 

“Curbside voting is a longstanding, secure voting option that local jurisdictions have made available to protect the health of vulnerable voters, including elderly, disabled, and voters with underlying health issues,” Racine said in a statement. “Curbside voting minimizes the risk to persons who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, and local jurisdictions should be able to offer this common-sense accommodation to voters. State Attorneys General will keep fighting to ensure that voters can safely make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.”

The brief filed by the coalition of state attorneys general comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Alabama has been ticking upward.

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Racine is joined in the brief by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

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Health

At least 248 COVID deaths reported in Alabama in October

The cumulative death toll in Alabama has risen by 248 to 2,788 in October and by 124 in the last week alone.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

We’re a little more than halfway through the month of October and the Alabama Department of Public Health has already reported at least 248 deaths from COVID-19.

The cumulative death toll in Alabama has risen by 248 to 2,788 in October and by 124 in the last week alone.

At least 378 deaths were reported in the month of September, a rate of 12.6 deaths per day over the month. In the first 17 days of October, the rate has been 14.6 deaths per day, a 15.9 percent increase from September.

Deaths were higher in July and August. The cumulative death toll increased by 582 in August and 630 in July, the worst month of the pandemic for the state.

On Saturday, ADPH reported that 1,288 more people in the state were confirmed positive with the coronavirus, and on Sunday the count increased by 964. The number of confirmed cases in Alabama has risen to 172,626.

There have been 17,925 new cases Alabama in October alone. The state is averaging almost 996 cases per day in October, which is up from September.

The state had 28,643 new coronavirus cases in September, 38,335 cases new cases in August, and 49,678 cases in July. Public health officials credit Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s statewide mask order on July 15 with slowing the spread of the virus in the state, but the virus has not gone away.

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ADPH reported 823 hospitalizations for COVID-19 on October 17, the most recent day for which we have data. While hospitalizations for COVID-19 are down from the peaks in early August in Alabama have risen from Oct. 1 when 748 Alabamians were hospitalized, a 10 percent increase from the first of the month.

The state of Alabama is continuing to struggle to protect its most vulnerable citizens. At least 6,497 residents of long term care facilities in Alabama have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, 247 of them in October.

There have also been 3,362 cases among long term care workers in Alabama, including 197 in the month of October. Some 9,819 Alabama health care workers have also contracted the coronavirus.

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Most people who test positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are asymptomatic or have only minor symptoms, but in about one out of five cases it can become much more severe.

For older people or people with underlying medical conditions like obesity, heart disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes or HIV, COVID-19 can turn deadly. COVID-19 is the abbreviated name for the medical condition caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Some 1,115,600 people worldwide have died from COVID-19 worldwide, including 224,284 Americans. There are 8,972,704 known active cases in the world today.

Public health officials warn citizens that coronavirus remains a present danger in our community. Social distancing is the best way to avoid spreading the virus. Avoid venues with large groups. Don’t shake hands or hug persons not living in your household.

Avoid leaving your home as much as possible and wear a mask or cloth face covering when you do go out. Avoid touching your face and wash your hands with soap frequently. Hand sanitizer is recommended.

A coronavirus vaccine may be available in the coming months, but we don’t yet know when or how effective it will be.

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National

Today is the last day to register to vote for the November 3 general election

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election is Oct. 19.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The secretary of state’s office on Sunday announced that its employees will be available until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19, to assist with voter registration.

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election is Oct. 19.

Eligible Alabamians can register to vote online at AlabamaVotes.gov, through the mobile app “Vote for Alabama,” or by visiting their county board of registrars office.

To submit an application to register to vote, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be a citizen of the United States.
  • You must live in the State of Alabama.
  • You must be at least 18 years of age on or before election day.
  • You must not be barred from voting by reason of a disqualifying felony conviction.
  • You must not have been judged “mentally incompetent” in a court of law.

Online registrations will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. and in-person registrations will be accepted until the close of business Monday, Oct. 19.

The office of the secretary of state will be available by phone to assist with any questions or concerns until 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 19 and can be reached at 334-242-7200 and the elections division can be reached at 334-242-7210.

Secretary of State John Merrill said, “I want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

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You can still register after the deadline, but you won’t be able to vote in this general election. Voters must have a valid photo ID. If you do not have a valid photo ID you can get a free voter ID from your local board of registrars or from the secretary of state’s office.

Every voter must vote at the polling place that they are assigned. It is not too late to apply for an absentee ballot. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is five days before the election. A record number of people are expected to vote absentee.

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Elections

Tuberville, Sessions campaign together

The two former Republican primary opponents participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Sen. Jeff Sessions, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

The Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate campaign released a social media video Thursday featuring Tuberville alongside former U.S. Sen. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The two former Republican primary opponents had participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Tuberville and Sessions on Wednesday met with representatives of Huntsville’s defense and technology sectors, participated in an event sponsored by the Republican Women of Huntsville and headlined multiple campaign fundraising events.

Sessions said, “Tommy, I support you 100 percent. Alabama must send you to represent us in the Senate. We cannot allow a Chuck Schumer acolyte – Doug Jones – to represent Alabama in the Senate.”

“You see it on his vote on the judges and Kavanaugh and the way he’s behaved about the new nominee, so I think … it would be shocking that Alabama would reelect a Doug Jones,” Sessions continued. “I know you’re going to win. I feel really good about it, and I’m glad that you’re traveling the state hard and that you’re here in this important community.”

The night after Tuberville won the Republican primary runoff election, Sessions committed to doing his part to help defeat Jones and reclaim the Senate seat for the ALGOP.

“After we won the runoff, Jeff Sessions called and told me, ‘Coach, I’m all in,’ and today’s joint events certainly demonstrate that he is a man of his word,” Tuberville said following the video shoot. “Jeff Sessions understands that it’s time we once again had a U.S. senator whose votes reflect our conservative Alabama values, not the ultra-liberal Hollywood and New York values of Doug Jones’s high-dollar, out-of-state campaign donors.”

Tuberville faces a determined Jones, who is flooding the airwaves with ads. Democrats are desperate to hold on to Jones’ seat, believing that his seat could tip control of the Senate to the Democrats.

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Democrats hope to hold onto their control the U.S. House of Representatives and a recent poll by Rasmussen shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with a five point lead over incumbent Donald Trump.

Sessions left the U.S. Senate to accept an appointment as Trump’s first attorney general.

Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the seat in the special election.

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Sessions was fired by Trump in 2018 and announced his candidacy for Senate the day before qualifying ended. Tuberville had already spent ten months on the campaign trail at that point.

Tuberville defeated Sessions, Moore, Congressman Bradley Byrne, State Rep. Arnold Mooney and businessman Stanley Adair in the crowded Republican primary. Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. He also coached Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Ole Miss. Tuberville won a national championship as the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. Tuberville lives in Auburn.

The general election is Nov. 3.

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