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Will an Israeli atomic clock fly to Neptune's moon Rahab?

The scientists of the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Space Agency, which finances the development of the watch at Acubit, qualified for the final stage

Triton as captured by the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera in 1989. Dozens of nitrogen geysers have been identified in the South Pole region - a finding that may indicate the existence of an underground ocean
Triton as captured by the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera in 1989. Dozens of nitrogen geysers have been identified in the South Pole region - a finding that may indicate the existence of an underground ocean

Triton as captured by the Voyager 2 spacecraft camera in 1989. Dozens of nitrogen geysers have been identified in the South Pole region - a finding that may indicate the existence of an underground ocean

If there is extraterrestrial life in the solar system, it may be hidden in the oceans flowing beneath the icy surface of several moons. One of the most prominent candidates for the existence of this type of subterranean ocean is the moon Triton, aptly named after one of the sea gods in Greek mythology.

Triton is Neptune's largest moon (Rahab in Hebrew) - but unusually rotates around it in the opposite direction, and according to the speculations, arrived outside the solar system and was captured in Neptune's gravitational field. Weizmann Institute of Science scientists, in collaboration with the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology, may be key partners in a space mission that will go to this intriguing moon in 2026. The space mission to Triton, known as "Trident", qualified for the final stage of NASA's "Discovery" program along with three other space missions out of 22 that submitted nominations. NASA has announced that it will invest three million dollars in each of the finalist missions - and in about a year will choose two of them, which will be realized and go into space.

Triton, located on the outskirts of the solar system, has not been visited by Earth in more than 30 years. In 1989, the "Voyager 2" spacecraft passed by it, and even though it was 40 kilometers away, the photographs it took revealed to our world one of the most unusual and surprising celestial bodies. The photographs revealed that the surface of Triton is one of the youngest in the solar system - only a few million years old - this is due to intense geological activity. Also, in the South Pole region, which was captured by the camera lens, dozens of nitrogen geysers were detected - possible evidence of the existence of an underground ocean - and the presence of an atmosphere with significant winds was also detected.

Trident is also scheduled to fly past Triton, but unlike Voyager, it is expected to come within 500 kilometers of the moon's surface. The mission, led by Prof. Louise Procter, director of the Institute for Planetary and Lunar Research in Houston, Texas - and with the participation of the research group of Prof. Yohai Caspi from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science - aims to determine if Triton does indeed have a subsurface ocean Terrestrial, and if so, what are its properties, to understand why Triton's surface is so young and to measure and characterize its atmosphere.

The watch, made in Israel, is accurate to the point of a deviation of one second every 10 million years, and is designed so that it can survive in space under extremely difficult conditions for more than 15 years."

Triton and Neptune (simulation). It is hypothesized that Triton came from outside the solar system and was caught in Neptune's gravitational field
Triton and Neptune (simulation). It is hypothesized that Triton came from outside the solar system and was caught in Neptune's gravitational field

Israelis are not necessarily known for extraordinary accuracy, but one of the reasons for the participation of Prof. Caspi and Dr. Eli Galanti from his research group at Trident is the fact that an ultra-precise clock, which they initiated and characterized, is expected to help the success of the mission. The watch, which was built by the Accubeat company from Jerusalem, funded by the Space Agency of the Ministry of Science and Technology, is accurate to the point of a deviation of one second every 10 million years, and is designed so that it can survive in space under extremely difficult conditions for more than 15 years. Prof. Caspi and Dr. Galanti plan to use it to calculate the dimensions of Triton's atmosphere by means of a Doppler shift of a radio wave that will be sent from the spacecraft to Earth; The watch, made in Israel, will help them measure minute fluctuations in the radio wave that the spacecraft will transmit. "This is the most accurate clock of its kind in the world today," says Prof. Caspi. "There are more accurate watches, but these are much larger and stationary devices." The watch would stand its first test four years earlier on board another spaceship: JUICE of the European Space Agency (ESA), which will go to the moons of Jupiter in 2022. The scientists of the institute and the company Accubeat are now in the final stages of preparing the watch for launch.

Avi Blasberger, director of the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology, says: "This unique watch, which was developed for the flagship mission of the European Space Agency, arouses great interest for use in other missions, such as the one described here, and is further proof of the capability of the Israeli space industry, as well as their capabilities of the Israeli scientists, to contribute to major space missions in the world".

Besides the instruments that are the responsibility of the Israeli team, the scientists of the mission also plan to send a magnetometer that may help identify and locate an underground ocean; an infrared spectrometer, which will allow to characterize the composition of the young surface; plasma spectrometer for sampling the atmosphere; and two types of space cameras to document areas of the planet and its moons that have not yet been observed.

NASA's flagship missions, which cost several billion dollars, are launched into space once or twice a decade. However, since the 90s, the US space program has also funded space missions at a lower cost and more frequently under Project Discovery and other projects. In contrast to the flagship missions planned for the destination chosen by NASA, in Discovery the missions and their destinations are proposed by research teams. The purpose of the program is to carry out more targeted, and sometimes more daring, space missions at a much lower cost (about half a billion dollars) and on a relatively short schedule.

How will Trident manage to reach the remote Triton in a short period of time and on a limited budget? "In 2026, a narrow window of opportunity will open that will allow - thanks to a unique configuration of the solar system - to reach Triton in a relatively short time considering the enormous distance: only 12 years," says Dr. Galanti. In less than a year, NASA will decide whether the researchers will indeed be able to take advantage of the window of opportunity and reach Triton by 2038. There are three competitors blowing at their backs: two space missions to the planet Nega and a space mission to Io - one of Jupiter's moons studded with active volcanoes.

to NASA's announcement

More of the topic in Hayadan:

2 תגובות

  1. "Thanks to the unique configuration of the solar system"
    shadow. Thanks to a unique constellation of the solar system

  2. I hope that they take into account the existing and expected drop in shipping prices by Spice-X and its competitor Blue Origin, and not build on some hideously expensive Delta 4. In 2026 it will be possible to launch a large spaceship with much more equipment for the same price.

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