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Southwest Research Institute

NASA Announces Two New Asteroid Missions

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Southwest Research Institute

The poet E.E. Cummings wrote, “—listen: there’s a hell / of a good universe next door; let’s go.” And go we shall: NASA’s Discovery Program announced this week that two robotic spacecraft named Psyche and Lucy will be setting out for nearby asteroids within the next decade.

For all our exploration over the last half-century, we still have much to learn about our own solar system. The Discovery Program aims to help fill in those gaps.

“Lucy will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, while Psyche will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before,” NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement. “This is what Discovery Program missions are all about—boldly going to places we’ve never been to enable groundbreaking science.”

Lucy is scheduled to launch in 2021 and should arrive at her first stop, an asteroid in Jupiter’s main belt, four years later. The craft will then study six of the ancient Trojan asteroids, which may have formed a mere 10 million years after the Sun.

Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute is chief investigator on the Lucy mission. “Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets,” he explained in a statement, “they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins.”

The Psyche mission, directed by scientists at Arizona State University, will lift off in 2023. It will reach the metal asteroid, called 16 Psyche, between Mars and Jupiter by 2030, then orbit and observe it for another 20 months. The asteroid is made almost entirely out of nickel-iron metal similar to those at the core of rocky planets like Earth.

NASA / ASU SESE mission to the Psyche asteroid from ASU Now on Vimeo.

“The knowledge this mission will create has the potential to affect our thinking about planetary science for generations to come,” said ASU president Michael Crow.

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Space
Eclipses Belong to Families That Span Millennia
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iStock

If you’re lucky enough to see the solar eclipse when it passes over America on August 21, you’ll bear witness to a centuries-long legacy. That’s because total eclipses of the sun aren’t isolated incidents that occur at random. They belong to interconnected eclipse families that humans have been using to track the phenomena since long before the first telescope was invented.

In the latest installment of StarTalk on Mashable, Neil deGrasse Tyson chats with meteorologist Joe Rao about the science behind eclipse families. According to Rao, eclipses follow Saros cycles which repeat every 18 years, 11 days, 8 hours. Astronomers keep track of many different Saros cycles. The eclipse on August 21, for example, is a member of the family Solar Saros 145. Every 18 years a Saros 145 eclipse falls over a different third of the Earth. In 1999, the great American eclipse’s “cousin” appeared in the skies over Europe and south Asia, and 18 years before that another relative could be seen over modern Russia. The Solar Saros clan can be traced all the way back to 1639 and it will keep going until 3009.

Today, scientists have space-age technology that allows them to track the moment of totality down to a fraction of a second. But thousands of years ago, before such satellite-tracking equipment was invented, ancient Babylonians only knew what they could observe from Earth. Their eclipse calculations ended up serving them pretty well: They were able to predict the same 18-year cycle we know to be true today.

Saros 145 isn’t the only family of eclipses making its way around the Earth. There are enough solar eclipse cycles to make the event a fairly common occurrence. If you’re curious to see how many will happen in your lifetime, here’s where you can calculate the number.

[h/t Mashable]

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entertainment
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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