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Debbie G. Gives Presentation on Perseverance

Astronomy Club members have been busy observing and learning about the universe, and sharing their information with the rest of us in the spirit of scientific discovery. 

After school on February 26th, Grier sophomore Debbie G. gave a presentation about the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, detailing the ways in which it was groundbreaking and what kind of information scientists hope to learn from the program.
The Astronomy Club members also published a Spring Newsletter, edited by Amber Y. and club advisor Mrs. Fernandes, that included Mars Fast Facts, a March Stargazing Report, details of the Perseverance Landing, pieces on the Andromeda Galaxy, the mythology of Andromeda, a feature on Women in STEM: Dr. Swati Mohan and Sally Ride and several fun activities and upcoming astronomical events.

Excerpts from the Spring 2021 Astronomy Club Newsletter:

Perseverance Landing | by Debbie G. ‘23

Perseverance, the Mars 2020 rover, successfully landed on Mars on February 18th as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. It was launched July 30th of last year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It landed in Jezero Crater, an area of Mars believed to have contained a massive lake billions of years ago. 

Perseverance is a SUV-sized rover that carries 19 cameras, 2 microphones, and 7 primary payload systems (systems that define the orbital placement and trajectory, flight design, critical paths, and mission operations), including a sample catching system that allows Martian samples to be brought to Earth. This rover shares similar design with Curiosity, the previous NASA Martian rover landed in 2012, only more elaborate and advanced. The total mission costs 2.75 billion USD, including development and building, launch service, and 2.5 years of mission operations.

Perseverance carries a helicopter named Ingenuity. Ingenuity’s purpose is to seek targets of interest and detect surrounding terrains. It can fly upwards 3-5 m above ground and has a 50 m range of flight. Each flight lasts about 90 s. All flight routes are set in advance due to the long delay of radio signals between Earth and Mars. Ingenuity is the first drone to ever fly on another planet, a significant technological advancement.
This Martian mission has 4 scientific goals: 1) To identify past environments that are capable of supporting microbial organisms. 2) To seek signs of possible past organisms in those suitable environments. 3) To collect and store core rock and soil samples. 4) To test oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere (preparing for human activity).

Perseverance is a profoundly significant and unique mission. This mission created loads of firsts: It plans to bring back the first group of samples. It is the first mission targeted on finding past organisms and suitable past environments for organisms. It plans to record sounds from Mars for the first time. What’s more, it carries the first helicopter to fly on another planet. This is also the most challenging mission yet: Perseverance is the heaviest rover ever created. The extra mass makes it harder for the rover to land successfully. The landing site, Jezero Crater, is the most challenging landing terrain on Mars yet. Most importantly, no mistakes are allowed in the process of landing. The rover takes approximately 7 minutes to land, while radio signal takes 11 minutes to travel from Earth to Mars. This gives the landing team no opportunity to fix any mistakes if occurred, since it will already be too late.

The most thrilling part of this mission, the core rock and soil samples, will be retrieved in 2031. They will be the first batch of samples ever from Mars. There are 40 pieces of sample, about 567 g (20 ounces) in total, collected over the course of 2 years. The cylindrical shaped sample pieces will be sealed into sample tubes and left on Martian surface. The Sample Retrieval Lander, a mission in partnership with the European Space Agency, planned in either 2026 or 2028, will collect these samples. All samples will be sent to the Earth Orbiter and brought to Earth in a decade. This mission is called the Mars Sample Return Campaign (MSR).

More information and daily updates on this mission and Percy the rover can be found on NASA”s official website (https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/) and Perseverance’s official twitter account (@NASAPersevere).

As NASA used the hidden message, “Dare mighty things,” in binary computer code on the landing parachute, major science advancements await with the results of this mission. Let’s dream big and remain hopeful.

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) | by Mrs. Fernandes

The Andromeda galaxy, the Triangulum galaxy, and the Milky Way galaxy make up what is called our “local group” of galaxies.  There are also a few smaller galaxies in our local group including the large and small Magellanic clouds (classified as irregular dwarf galaxies).  Andromeda is a stellar object to find in the telescope!  It’s often obscured by a tree on the Grier campus though.  This galaxy is roughly 2.5 million light years away (meaning that it takes light from this object 2.5 million years to reach our eyes!  It’s estimated to house about a trillion stars (by comparison, the Milky Way has about 400 billion stars).

Andromeda and Mythology | by Campbell C. ‘24

Are we, as humans, a plaything for a higher being? Or are we the masters of our own fate?  Tonight, we stare up at the bodies of heroes long past, laying across the sky as stars.  Tonight’s story is about Andromeda, and the figures tied to her, be it by predetermined fate or mere chance.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful Princess named Andromeda. She was the princess of Aethiopia, and daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. One day, Cassiopeia boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids. Poseidon, God of the sea, flooded the land, and sent a terrible monster known as Cetus to ravage Aethiopia as punishment for Cassiopeia’s hubris. In desperation, Cepheus consulted the Oracle of Ammon, who said that the only way to end this madness was to sacrifice Princess Andromeda to Cetus.

And so there Andromeda stood, chained to a rock, about to pay with her life for her mother’s foolish pride. I don’t know what might’ve gone through her head, maybe she accepted her fate, or maybe she thought “I don’t want to die.” The situation was hopeless, her death was the only way to save the kingdom. It would’ve taken a miracle to save her now.  And a miracle did come.  The miracle came in the form of the hero Perseus, who rode the winds with the winged sandals of Hermes and was making his way home after slaying the gorgon, Medusa. Perseus fell instantly in love with Andromeda and wanted to save the Princess from her fate. Perseus took the sword he used to decapitate Medusa with and slayed the fearsome monster!

The Princess who stood in chains, was finally freed. Her miracle saved her from a terrible fate. In the end, Andromeda married Perseus and became the Queen of Greece. Now she, Perseus, her parents, and the monster now rest among the cosmos. Waiting for someone to look up and find them, and hoping for everyone to learn their story, now immortalized among the stars. 

Women in STEM: Dr. Swati Mohan | by Cecilia F. ‘21

Did you watch NASA land the Perseverance on Mars in February? Amidst the wash of tech talk and space jargon in the background, one of the voices narrating the events explaining the maneuvers and procedures to us viewers in clear English was none other than Dr. Swati Mohan.   Born in Bengaluru, Karnataka, Dr. Mohan immigrated to the D.C area in the United States when she was 1 year-old. At age 9, she saw an episode of Star Trek and that’s when her fascination with space began. Originally, she was going to pursue medicine, until she took her first physics class when she was 16. She realized engineering could help her experience Star Trek in real life. She pursued mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University and earned a masters degree and doctorate in aeronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At age 31, she worked for a part of the 20 year Cassini mission to Saturn and the GRAIL mission that flew the twin spacecrafts Ebb and Flow around the Moon to map its gravitational field. Age 33, in 2013, she joined the Mars 2020 mission. Her role as the lead engineer for guidance, navigation, and controls operation put her in charge of the altitude control system that made sure Perseverance was going where it was supposed to.

Dr. Mohan’s position as the face of the NASA team, wearing a traditional Indian bindi no less, represents a new age of hope and opportunities in STEM for minorities and women, as on February 18, 2021, at age 41, Dr. Mohan announced “Touchdown confirmed,” and brought humankind into a new age of space travel. 

Women in STEM: Sally Ride | by Cecilia F. ‘21

While it may be widely known that Alan Shepard was the first American in space, blasting off from Cape Canaveral in 1961, it wasn’t until 1983, 22 years later, that America’s first woman entered space.

Sally Ride, born in Los Angeles on May 26, 1951, joined NASA in 1978 when she was only 27 years old. Previously, she had graduated from Stanford University with a bachelors degree in English and physics and a masters and PhD in physics with specific emphasis on astrophysics and the study of free electron lasers.

The ride for Dr. Ride was not exactly easy. In 1978, after seeing an ad in a Stanford newspaper, she applied and was selected as one of 35 members to be in NASA Astronaut Group 8. This was the first NASA group ever to include female and minority astronauts. She worked as a mission specialist for the capsule communicator, CapCom, for the second and third Space Shuttle missions.

Dr. Ride faced insensitive and uneducated comments from media reporters leading up to her first flight mission. At her first press conference regarding NASA’s upcoming projects, all reporters jumped on her, asking, “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job? Will the flight affect your reproductive organs? Will you become a mother?” Nevertheless, Dr. Ride remained calm and persisted on to join the seventh Space Shuttle mission as a mission specialist. Part of her job there was to operate the robotic arm to deploy and retrieve the Shuttle Pallet Satellite that carried a variety of payloads. At age 32, Dr. Ride set the record for youngest American astronaut to enter space, which she still holds to this day.  Continuing to play a key role in NASA operations, Dr. Ride then went on to participate in the STS-41G mission to employ the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite in 1984 and was a member of the Rogers Commission to investigate the Challenger disaster in 1986.

Sally Ride was the third woman to enter space in the world. She was preceded only by USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. Sally Ride was also the first known LGBT astronaut. She passed away on July 23, 2012 in her home in La Jolla, California.


Thank you, Astronomy Club and Mrs. Fernandes for keeping us engaged with our amazing universe and the pioneering scientists who study it!

Astronomy Club contributors, RW | CF, RW
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