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posted by Fnord666 on Friday March 27 2020, @10:01PM   Printer-friendly
from the the-jokes-just-write-themselves dept.

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

Eight and a half years into its grand tour of the solar system, NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft was ready for another encounter. It was Jan. 24, 1986, and soon it would meet the mysterious seventh planet, icy-cold Uranus.

Over the next few hours, Voyager 2 flew within 50,600 miles (81,433 kilometers) of Uranus' cloud tops, collecting data that revealed two new rings, 11 new moons and temperatures below minus 353 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 214 degrees Celsius). The dataset is still the only up-close measurements we have ever made of the planet.

Three decades later, scientists reinspecting that data found one more secret.

Unbeknownst to the entire space physics community, 34 years ago Voyager 2 flew through a plasmoid, a giant magnetic bubble that may have been whisking Uranus's atmosphere out to space. The finding, reported in Geophysical Research Letters, raises new questions about the planet's one-of-a-kind magnetic environment.

[...] Readings from inside the plasmoid — as Voyager 2 flew through it — hinted at its origins. Whereas some plasmoids have a twisted internal magnetic field, DiBraccio and Gershman observed smooth, closed magnetic loops. Such loop-like plasmoids are typically formed as a spinning planet flings bits of its atmosphere to space. "Centrifugal forces take over, and the plasmoid pinches off," Gershman said. According to their estimates, plasmoids like that one could account for between 15 and 55% of atmospheric mass loss at Uranus, a greater proportion than either Jupiter or Saturn. It may well be the dominant way Uranus sheds its atmosphere to space.

How has plasmoid escape changed Uranus over time? With only one set of observations, it's hard to say.

"Imagine if one spacecraft just flew through this room and tried to characterize the entire Earth," DiBraccio said. "Obviously it's not going to show you anything about what the Sahara or Antarctica is like."

But the findings help focus new questions about the planet. The remaining mystery is part of the draw. "It's why I love planetary science," DiBraccio said. "You're always going somewhere you don't really know."

More information: Gina A. DiBraccio et al. Voyager 2 constraints on plasmoid‐based transport at Uranus, Geophysical Research Letters (2019). DOI: 10.1029/2019GL083909

Original Submission

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Humanity's Most Distant Space Probe Jeopardized by Computer Glitch 14 comments

Voyager 1 is still alive out there, barreling into the cosmos more than 15 billion miles away. However, a computer problem has kept the mission's loyal support team in Southern California from knowing much more about the status of one of NASA's longest-lived spacecraft.

The computer glitch cropped up on November 14, and it affected Voyager 1's ability to send back telemetry data, such as measurements from the spacecraft's science instruments or basic engineering information about how the probe was doing. [...] "It would be the biggest miracle if we get it back. We certainly haven't given up," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an interview with Ars. "There are other things we can try. But this is, by far, the most serious since I've been project manager."

Dodd became the project manager for NASA's Voyager mission in 2010, overseeing a small cadre of engineers responsible for humanity's exploration into interstellar space. Voyager 1 is the most distant spacecraft ever, speeding away from the Sun at 38,000 mph (17 kilometers per second). [...] The latest problem with Voyager 1 lies in the probe's Flight Data Subsystem (FDS), one of three computers on the spacecraft working alongside a command-and-control central computer and another device overseeing attitude control and pointing. [...] In November, the data packages transmitted by Voyager 1 manifested a repeating pattern of ones and zeros as if it were stuck, according to NASA. Dodd said engineers at JPL have spent the better part of three months trying to diagnose the cause of the problem. She said the engineering team is "99.9 percent sure" the problem originated in the FDS, which appears to be having trouble "frame syncing" data. [...] "It's likely somewhere in the FDS memory," Dodd said. "A bit got flipped or corrupted. But without the telemetry, we can't see where that FDS memory corruption is."

[...] "We have sheets and sheets of schematics that are paper, that are all yellowed on the corners, and all signed in 1974," Dodd said. "They're pinned up on the walls and people are looking at them. That's a whole story in itself, just how to get to the information you need to be able to talk about the commanding decisions or what the problem might be." [...] "It is difficult to command Voyager," Dodd said. "We don't have any type of simulator for this. We don't have any hardware simulator. We don't have any software simulator... There's no simulator with the FDS, no hardware where we can try it on the ground first before we send it. So that makes people more cautious, and it's a balance between getting commanding right and taking risks."

[...] The spacecraft's vast distance and position in the southern sky require NASA to use the largest 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at a Deep Space Network tracking site in Australia, one of the network's most in-demand antennas.

"The data rates are very low, and this anomaly causes us not to have any telemetry," Dodd said. "We're kind of shooting in the blind a little bit because we don't know what the status of the spacecraft is completely."

Previously on SoylentNews:
Engineers Work to Fix Voyager 1 Computer - 20231215

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @10:11PM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @10:11PM (#976486)

    How MANY secrets can there be about Uranus!?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @10:53PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @10:53PM (#976495)

      Is Uranus is shrinking?

    • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @11:25PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @11:25PM (#976504)

      Well the gas was probably methane, so we could say:
      Researchers Hot on the sent of old Voyager data, sniff out that Uranus is farting.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @11:41PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 27 2020, @11:41PM (#976508)

        Uranus' cloud tops

      • (Score: 1) by petecox on Saturday March 28 2020, @01:06AM (1 child)

        by petecox (3228) on Saturday March 28 2020, @01:06AM (#976538)

        But when it comes to Uranus, I blame the Klingons.

        • (Score: 2) by stretch611 on Saturday March 28 2020, @11:24AM

          by stretch611 (6199) on Saturday March 28 2020, @11:24AM (#976600)

          Why is the starship Enterprise like toilet paper?

          Because they both circle around Uranus and fight the Klingons.
          Now with 5 covid vaccine shots/boosters altering my DNA :P
    • (Score: 1) by Kitsune008 on Saturday March 28 2020, @12:23AM

      by Kitsune008 (9054) on Saturday March 28 2020, @12:23AM (#976527)

      How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?

      We can only probe deeply to discover the depths of Uranus, but beware the hydrogen sulfides.

      BTW, what probe lubricants work in the cold/hot vacuum of deep space?

  • (Score: 1, Offtopic) by aristarchus on Friday March 27 2020, @10:23PM (4 children)

    by aristarchus (2645) on Friday March 27 2020, @10:23PM (#976489) Journal

    Is there some reason mere Soylentils can no longer see the filters on the Subs list? Gas Giant minds want to know.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by janrinok on Saturday March 28 2020, @09:12AM (2 children)

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 28 2020, @09:12AM (#976589) Journal

      Soylentils can no longer see the filters

      The filters were never meant to be viewable by the community, were they? They are an editing aid, not a user submission feature. There is a lot of information on that page that editors see but the community don't. We put all COVID related stories in one location because we merge them into regular round-ups, and also because they tend to swamp all the other stories. There are currently 17 submissions in the standard queue, and 18 stories that are being held for the next round-up.

      I don't remember them being viewable by all, but I could be mistaken about that.

      If, on the other hand, you actually mean the filtered submission are not viewable then that is true - but they are all COVID related if that helps you in your search for something... You have 2 stories in that pile.

      • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Sunday March 29 2020, @06:18AM (1 child)

        by aristarchus (2645) on Sunday March 29 2020, @06:18AM (#976868) Journal

        Continuing the off-topic topic that the Head Editore Emeritas has deemed worthy of a reply: I am always amazed at what the editores do not know about the daily experience of the average Soylentil. Yes, until a day or so ago, we could see the filters for pending submissions. The disruption of information can only mean one thing, according to StarWars. Why was this changed? Could it be a further attempt to hide the blatant and egregious censorship of aristarchus submissions? Well, given past deep-sixing of the same, and the disappearance of the same this time, why should any average Soylentil infer anything else?

        • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Sunday March 29 2020, @07:33AM

          by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 29 2020, @07:33AM (#976874) Journal

          I am always amazed at what the editores do not know about the daily experience of the average Soylentil

          Well you shouldn't be - we have a different display to the one you see. Have you ever tried editing a submission? You'll find that you cannot do so. Because you do not have access to the pages that allow a submission to be edited. As far as I am aware nothing has been changed in the software over the last 48 hours.

    • (Score: 2) by martyb on Sunday March 29 2020, @05:07PM

      by martyb (76) on Sunday March 29 2020, @05:07PM (#976966) Journal

      There is a site variable that gates when the message such as this appears at the top of the main page:

      SoylentNews is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop. Only 15 submissions in the queue

      The current value is: 20

      It is also used as a gate as to when the selection controls are displayed on the submissions list page.

      Simple workaround:
      Submit more, general-interest stories. Once there are 20 or more story submissions in the "general" submissions queue, the controls will automatically re-appear! I say "general interest" insomuch as I mean non-coronavirus story submissions. Those are classified as "hold" so we can keep them in one place for creating a roundup of the submissions; these do not count towards the gating threshold.

      Some History:
      Back on the old site, there was a problem with someone posing a long screed shortly after a story went live. There was far more text present than could be explained other than a cut-and-paste of a previously constructed comment. As I understand it, it was thought they were monitoring the story submissions queue. When they saw one that hit a "hot button" for them, and there were only a few pending stories, they could reasonably expend the energy to craft a comment to push an agenda, lay in wait for the story to hopefully go live, and then get first post (or very close to it). Being early in the discussion afforded a couple perceived benefits. Increased visibility (the 100th comment to a story is less likely to be seen by everyone than the first). Even if it were to be modded down below many people's threshold (set in their preferences), it took a while for people to notice, perform the moderation, and drop the comment score. In the interim, many people had already loaded the article and were viewing it and this yet-to-be-downmodded comment. This, too, increased the visibility and served to help them push their agenda.

      On the other hand, when there are a large number of story submissions, one is less certain that the effort involved in writing the piece will be efficacious. It could well be that the selected story would not be released and all their work was for nought.

      Here be Dragons:
      I could easily change that value and/or the template which examines it, but I am too-well-aware of the law of unintended consequences. Rather than dash in, make a change, and find myself spending perhaps days tracking down corner-cases, I think it best that some consideration to the ramifications be made, first. Only after some deliberation and discussion of the pros and cons would it make sense to me to roll out a change.

      Wit is intellect, dancing.
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Friday March 27 2020, @11:05PM

    by takyon (881) <> on Friday March 27 2020, @11:05PM (#976497) Journal []

    "Scientists are currently exploring future opportunities to visit Uranus and Neptune," DiBraccio said. "This includes mission concepts that would send spacecraft to orbit one of these planets and even send a probe into its atmosphere."

    A mission like this would launch around 2030, NASA estimates. Teams are working hard to develop mission concepts, based on [a] 2017 review.

    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
  • (Score: 2) by Bot on Saturday March 28 2020, @12:07AM (1 child)

    by Bot (3902) on Saturday March 28 2020, @12:07AM (#976519) Journal

    If you discover plasmoids in uranus, stop and call the police.

    Account abandoned.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2020, @04:59AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28 2020, @04:59AM (#976566)

      Especially the ones that fling atmosphere from uranus into space!

  • (Score: 2) by Pslytely Psycho on Saturday March 28 2020, @09:35AM (1 child)

    by Pslytely Psycho (1218) on Saturday March 28 2020, @09:35AM (#976591)

    Soylentils never disappoint. But they do remind us of why Uranus will be renamed in 2620. []

    Alex Jones lawyer inspires new TV series: CSI Moron Division.