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Planetary Science News

Unwrapping Uranus and its icy secrets: What NASA would learn from a mission to a wild world
THE CONVERSATION — "Many in the space community – like me – are urging NASA to launch a robotic spacecraft to explore Uranus. Indeed, the 2023 decadal survey of planetary scientists ranked such a journey as the single highest priority for a new NASA flagship mission. This time, the spacecraft would not simply fly by Uranus on its way somewhere else, as Voyager 2 did. Instead, the probe would spend years orbiting and studying the planet, its 27 moons and its 13 rings," explains Dr. Mike Sori, of Purdue EAPS, in a piece he penned for The Conversation.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx to bring samples of asteroid Bennu to Earth: What to know
AL JAZEERA ENGLISH — US space agency NASA is receiving its first sample from an asteroid. Its fiery return will conclude a seven-year mission, and the contents will be studied by scientists worldwide. Dr. Michelle Thompson appears in this video by Al Jazeera’s Colin Baker.

New research shows the moon might be older than we thought
NPR — The moon appears to be roughly 40 million years older than previously thought, new research shows. Regina Barber of NPR discusses with scientists how the dating works. Dr. Marissa Tremblay, of Purdue EAPS, was interviewed in this All Things Considered "two minute listen" podcast.

Billions of Years Ago, Venus May Have Had a Key Earthlike Feature
NEW YORK TIMES — A new study makes the case that the solar system’s hellish second planet once may have had plate tectonics that could have made it more hospitable to life. The research of Dr. Alexandria Johnson, of Purdue EAPS, is discussed in this article by the New York Times. the research paper titled, "Venus’s atmospheric nitrogen explained by ancient plate tectonics" published in Nature Astronomy on Oct. 26, 2023.

Purdue scientist among first to study asteroid sample
INSIDE INDIANA BUSINESS - A professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University was among six scientists to be the first to examine a study of samples from the asteroid Bennu retrieved through NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. Michelle Thompson said it was a “surreal moment” when the sample return canister was opened at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston after the sample landed on Sept. 24 in Utah.

Prof. Andrew Freed inducted in Book of Great Teachers
Purdue inducted 38 instructors into its Book of Great Teachers, which honors outstanding teaching faculty who have demonstrated sustained excellence in the classroom. The induction ceremony, conducted as part of the annual Celebration of Teaching Excellence, is held every five years. Prof. Andrew Freed was inducted this year. He is the second professor from EAPS to be inducted. Previously, Prof. Jon Harbor was also inducted.

Scientist explains why Bennu asteroid samples are a big deal
CBC — Canadian professor Michelle Thompson, of Purdue EAPS, was part of a small team of scientists who got first access to samples from the 4.5-billion-year-old Bennu asteroid. She explains to The National’s Ian Hanomansing how the research can help unlock a new understanding of the origins of life on Earth.

Journey to Jurabi Point
NASA — The Perseverance rover is always on the move! With our first core sample of the margin unit in hand, we’re already plotting course to our next stop in the Margin Campaign. One of our future destinations is a location named “Jurabi Point” that the team’s scientists have been eagerly waiting to explore even since before landing. First though, we’re wrapping up investigation at our current workspace, explains Athanasios Klidaras, Ph.D. student with Purdue EAPS, in this Mars blog for NASA.

Humans are about to explore a metal-rich asteroid for the first time. Here's why.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC — This strange asteroid could be the exposed heart of a failed planet—or something even more mysterious. NASA is about to find out. Dr. Brandon Johnson, of Purdue EAPS, is quoted in this article by National Geographic Subscription required to view article.

Meteor confirmed over Bloomington
WISHTV — A camera affixed to a Bloomington home recorded a bright flash from a meteor around 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 21. “I think it was a fireball meteor, which is a very bright meteor that essentially explodes in the atmosphere,” said Dr. Brandon Johnson, an associate professor of planetary sciences at Purdue University.

Meteor confirmed over Bloomington
WISHTV — A camera affixed to a Bloomington home recorded a bright flash from a meteor around 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 21. “I think it was a fireball meteor, which is a very bright meteor that essentially explodes in the atmosphere,” said Dr. Brandon Johnson, an associate professor of planetary sciences at Purdue University.

Purdue scientist: Meteor confirmed over Bloomington
WISHTV — A camera affixed to a Bloomington home recorded a bright flash from a meteor around 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 21. “I think it was a fireball meteor, which is a very bright meteor that essentially explodes in the atmosphere,” said Dr. Brandon Johnson, an associate professor of planetary sciences at Purdue University.

What mud cracks on Mars tell us about whether life could have formed on the planet
PBS — Multi-billion-year-old mud cracks on the surface of Mars are helping researchers piece together the ancient history of our planetary neighbor’s climate. Dr. Briony Horgan, of Purdue EAPS, helps explain what these cracks may mean in this article by PBS.

Asteroid pieces could offer insights into the start of life on Earth, according to Purdue scientist
WBAA — A seven-year mission to collect pieces of an ancient asteroid ended on Sunday when a capsule carrying rock fragments touched down in a Utah desert. Purdue University scientist, Dr. Michelle Thompson, will be part of the team analyzing pieces of the celestial rock.

No, the OSIRIS-REx probe will not bring back asteroid space 'germs'
SPACE — Twelve years after OSIRIS-REx was chosen to be NASA's ambitious asteroid-sampling endeavor, the mission's probe is set to deliver more than 2 ounces (60 grams) of material from a space rock named Bennu on Sunday morning. "We won't find life itself, but we're definitely looking at the building blocks that could have eventually evolved into life," Michelle Thompson, who is an associate professor in Purdue University's College of Science and one of the six lead investigators who will get a first peek at the asteroid sample.

Special delivery! Biggest-ever haul of asteroid dust and rock returns to Earth
NATURE — A saucer-shaped capsule parachuted down gently in the Utah desert today, after a years-long journey through space. Its cargo is a precious collection of rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu — the first time NASA has ever brought pieces of this type of celestial object back to Earth. Over the coming days, NASA will fly the bits of Bennu to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, curators will carefully disassemble the container and begin analysing the chemistry and mineralogy of the pristine samples — which might hold clues to the origins of the Solar System. “I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve who is just too excited to go to sleep,” says Michelle Thompson, a planetary scientist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and a member of the ‘quick look’ team who will have the first chance to study the rocks.

Mars region offers NASA rover environment to search for evidence of ancient microbial life
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University scientist Briony Horgan is leading NASA’s Mars rover into unfamiliar territory as the mission turns toward its next opportunity to find ancient signs of life on the red planet. The rover Perseverance is searching for evidence of ancient microbial life in Mars’ rock record in deposits along the margin areas around Jezero Crater, where the rover initially landed. Any life that once existed on the red planet may have left behind chemical clues that Horgan hopes can still be found in the deposits as part of the rover’s “margin campaign.”

Bringing home asteroids: Purdue scientist will be among the first to examine asteroid pieces from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission
PURDUE NEWS — The culmination of more than a decade of work by a team of thousands, samples of the asteroid will land Sept. 24 in the Utah desert and be whisked off to a clean lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, Michelle Thompson, associate professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences in Purdue’s College of Science, will be one of the first six lead investigators from the science team — and the first woman — to study the samples.

Optimizing Carbonate Classification on Mars
EOS — Combining data from several of Perseverance rover’s spectroscopic sensors offers a more accurate means to classify carbonate minerals that may hold hints of ancient life. This EOS article is sourced from a recent AGU publication in which Dr. Roger Wiens of Purdue EAPS is an author.

Purdue research: Ice caps on Mars may reveal planet’s climate history
PURDUE NEWS — A team of scientists, led by Purdue University’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences professors Ali Bramson and Michael Sori, set out to unlock the hidden, historic secrets within ice caps on Mars and published their findings in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Four EAPS professors chosen by NASA to study lunar science
NASA has recently selected five new research teams to collaborate on lunar science and sample analysis. The Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) from NASA will use this research to support future exploration of the Moon. From a pool of highly competitive proposals, only five SSERVI teams were selected. Four faculty members from EAPS were selected to be Co-Investigators on three of the five selected teams.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Will Have New Home in Houston
NASA — If everything goes according to plan, OSIRIS-REx’s sample return capsule will separate from the spacecraft, enter the Earth’s atmosphere and parachute safely to Earth for recovery at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, located about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City. The asteroid samples, which will be examined and stored in a new curation facility managed by NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division, or ARES, at Johnson. The division is home to the world’s most extensive collection of extraterrestrial materials - including lunar rocks, solar wind particles, meteorites, and comet samples. Dr. Michelle Thompson, of Purdue EAPS, is highlighted in this article by NASA.

NASA's Perseverance Makes New Discoveries in Mars' Jezero Crater – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
INFERSE — Scientists got a surprise when NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover began examining rocks on the floor of Jezero Crater in spring of 2021: Because the crater held a lake billions of years ago, they had expected to find sedimentary rock, which would have formed when sand and mud settled in a once-watery environment. Instead, they discovered the floor was made of two types of igneous rock – one that formed deep underground from magma, the other from volcanic activity at the surface. Dr. Roger Wiens of Purdue EAPS is cited in this article.

Zonta International announces Amelia Earhart Fellowship
The Amelia Earhart Fellowship from Zonta International was established in 1938 in honor of famed pilot and Zontian, Amelia Earhart. The US Fellowship is awarded annually to up to 30 women pursuing Ph.D./doctoral degrees in aerospace engineering and space sciences. Riley McGlasson of Purdue EAPS was awarded an Amelia Earhart Fellowship this year.


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