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Astronomers discover an active galaxy in the early universe, and NASA names the Mars 2020 Rover with an essay contest. Note: The show will be taking a week off next week.

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Hello, Friday! I just want to start this episode off with a reminder that we will be taking next week off to work on planning how to bring you all the news that would have been coming out during the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conferences, but is now in limbo as coronavirus has cancelled that meeting and so many others.

Folks, it’s a weird world out there. Stock up on food and chocolate, and wash your hands.

I think everyone is a bit distracted at the moment, and there hasn’t been a lot of super exciting news. 

Cosmic Jets Coming at You
This artist’s concept shows a “feeding,” or active, supermassive black hole with a jet streaming outward at nearly the speed of light. Such active black holes are often found at the hearts of elliptical galaxies. Not all black holes have jets, but when they do, the jets can be pointed in any direction. If a jet happens to shine at Earth, the object is called a blazar.

Blazars are categorized differently than other active black holes with jets because they have unique properties when viewed by telescopes. They give off a full range of light, dominated by high-energy gamma rays. As particles in the jets are accelerated to almost the speed of light, they give off a specific infrared signature, which NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) can detect. Astronomers have taken advantage of this fact, and used the WISE all-sky catalog to uncover more than 200 new blazars so far.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The most scientifically interesting news is the discovery of an active galaxy with massive jets pointed right at us. While that may sound dangerous, this particular object, a blazar named PSO J030947.49+271757.31, is located in the distant universe, and its light has been travelling toward us for some 12 billion years. These kinds of galaxies can only be detected when their jets are pointed in our direction. Statistically, if we find one blazar like this, there are going to be 100 more that are pointed in other directions. This implies there are a bunch of active galaxies already large are churning out star formation just 1 billion years after the universe formed. This object is the most distant source of persistent radio emission so far found. These results are published in the latest issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics and this work was led by Silvia Belladitta.

You’ll often hear us talk about how our stories come from a new article in one journal or another, and we work hard to make sure that we are either putting forward peer-reviewed science, or highlighting an event or pretty picture that may be of interest but doesn’t make science claims that need to be reviewed by peers.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:In_Peer_Review_We_Trust.jpg

This week we’ve had a bunch of people ask us about claims that a protein has been found in a meteor. We’ve seen reports of this on Twitter, but Twitter isn’t exactly a credible source of information. In trying to hunt down the original research, we found a preprint – a paper that is not yet published and is undergoing review, from a team of researchers led by Malcom McGeoch who lists his affiliation as PLEX LLC, but who isn’t listed on their website, and may actually be retired or something. Given the lack of peer review on this paper, and my inability to find out anything about the first author, we are going to hold off talking about the science of this paper until it’s made it through peer review. This science is outside my area of expertise, and this isn’t a case where I can say “I know this research team, so I’m going to give you a preview.” This isn’t to say the research is bad, or less likely to be true. It’s to say, I have no idea, and science as a process for this, so let’s wait for the process to take place.

This artist’s rendition depicts NASA’s Mars 2020 rover studying a Mars rock outrcrop.
The mission will not only seek out and study an area likely to have been habitable in the distant past, but it will take the next, bold step in robotic exploration of the Red Planet by seeking signs of past microbial life itself.

Mars 2020 will use powerful instruments to investigate rocks on Mars down to the microscopic scale of variations in texture and composition. It will also acquire and store samples of the most promising rocks and soils that it encounters, and set them aside on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth.
Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July/August 2020 aboard an Atlas V-541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory builds and manages the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
For more information about the mission, go to https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

OK, one final news note for the day. Yesterday, NASA announced that the Mars 2020 rover is going to be dubbed Perseverance. The winning essay associated with this name was written by Alexander Mather of Virginia and was 1 of 28,000 essays submitted. People on Twitter were quick to complain that this name is a bear to spell, and I’ll admit I misspelled it on my first try for this story, but… it is already looking like folks maybe shortening it to Percy. Don’t like either Perseverance or Percy? Well, Doug Ellison at JPL pointed out on Twitter that the Mars Science Laboratory team refers to Curiosity as “the rover,” or when it is being annoying as “the spacecraft”. So, here is to the other rover, launched in 2020, that some call Percy, having a successful launch later this year.  

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And that rounds out our show for today.Thank you all for listening. Today’s script was written by Pamela Gay. The Daily Space is produced by Susie Murph, and is a product of the Planetary Science Institute, a 501(c)3 non profit dedicated to exploring our Solar System and beyond. We are here thanks to the generous contributions of people like you. Want to become a supporter of the show? Check us out at Patreon.com/cosmoquestx