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JWST observations compared to Hubble’s.

Like the musical “Hamilton”, the James Webb Space Telescope lives up to the hype. Already, astronomers have used it to discover galaxies older and more distant than ever before, and it’s only getting started. One of the astronomical processes JWST will elucidate is the formation of stars. Understanding star formation is critical if we want to answer questions about the origin of life on Earth and the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe. But even though scientists have been thinking about star formation since before the word “scientist” existed, some of the most basic questions about the process remain unanswered.

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Brian Jackson’s Press Conference Presentation

Contact Info

Ash devil near Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. From https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIWWeARqOj0.

Summary

An key source of dust, dust devils help drive weather and climate on Mars. With a sophisticated suite of meteorological instruments, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover can detect when a dust devil passes nearby — the instruments can see the pressure and dust perturbations from the dust devils. (Wind data were not available by the time of our work, so we didn’t include any — oh, well, next time.)

(a) The pressure perturbation from passage of a dust devil near Mars 2020. (b) The dustiness of the vortex – Mars 2020 has several dust sensors, and depending on how the dust devil blows over the rover, some of them will see a dust shadow (down dip) and some will see reflected light (up blip). From https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/PSJ/ac4586.

In a two new studies, my research group used data from Mars 2020 to look for passing dust devils and spotted almost 1000 encounters over the missions first 178 days. We confirmed previous weather predictions that Mars 2020 would see more than other recent missions, including InSight and Curiosity. We also found out that there were lots of whirlwinds that passed by Mars 2020 that actually didn’t raise any dust — only about a quarter of whirlwinds showed any signs of dust-lifting.

These kinds of studies are important for understanding the martian dust cycle and the contribution from dust devils. Scientists know Mars’ dust cycle strongly affects climate, and increases in atmospheric dust increase the rate of water loss into space. Martian dust may even be toxic, so dust devils could pose a big hazard for humans on Mars.

Research Publications

  • Jackson, B. (2022) “Estimating the Heights of Martian Vortices from Mars 2020 MEDA Data.” in review with Planetary Science Journal.
  • Jackson, B. (2022) “Vortices and Dust Devils as Observed by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer Instruments on Board the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover.” Planetary Science Journal.

Jackson’s AAS Science Presentation

Gravitational lensing of distant galaxies observed by Hubble. From https://www.nasa.gov/content/discoveries-highlights-shining-a-light-on-dark-matter.

Although our current understanding of gravity, the theory of general relativity, arose only one hundred years ago, scientists were speculating about exotic gravitational effects going back to before the word “scientist” even existed. Today, astronomers employ gravity in a variety of ways to study the cosmos, to look for planets outside our solar system and even to weigh some of the largest celestial bodies in existence. These measurements have shed light on some of the darkest of astronomical mysteries.

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First Friday Astronomy/So You Got a Telescope? Event – 2022 June 3

Did you get a new telescope, find an old telescope, just need help to learning how to use your telescope? Join Boise Astronomical Society for a hands-on telescope tutorial. Tutorial starts 5p MT at Boise State: maps.boisestate.edu/?id=715#!m/89075.

followed by

Weighing and Measuring the Universe with Galaxy Clusters – Dr. Andres Salcedo, U of Arizona

Lecture starts 7:30p MT

Attend virtually: boi.st/astrobroncoslive or In-person attendance on Boise State’s campus: maps.boisestate.edu/?id=715#!m/89069

Watch Dr. Salcedo’s talk!