Job Alert! NASA Is Hiring a 'Planetary Protection Officer'

From space psychologist to chief sniffer, there are thousands of positions at NASA designed to ensure missions run smoothly. The most important-sounding title may be "Planetary Protection Officer," and according to Business Insider, the space agency is looking for a qualified person to fill the role.

The PPO—a position that has been around for decades—is responsible for not only protecting humanity from alien contamination, but also for making sure planetary or lunar missions don't leave behind any materials that could harm other planets. The job posting reads:

"NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration."

Candidates must have at least a year's experience in a high-level government job, extensive knowledge of planetary protection, and an advanced degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics. The chosen applicant will receive a salary between $124,406 to $187,000, plus benefits, and hold the role for three years.

The job of planetary protection officer was created in light of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The international agreement stipulates that the potential for contamination from Earth on interplanetary missions should be limited to a one-in-10,000 chance. That’s why the Curiosity rover was forbidden from collecting water on Mars even though a sample would be invaluable to scientists.

NASA states the PPO will be required to travel to ensure space agencies around the world are complying with international space laws. They will also be instrumental in preparing vessels and equipment for any future missions to Mars. "The focus of planetary protection is to make sure … the next robotic mission to Mars doesn't bring something along that might cause problems later,” the current PPO, Catharine Conley, told Mental Floss last year.

The posting went up last month on USAJobs.gov. Interested job seekers have until August 14 to apply.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Uranus Reaches Opposition on Halloween in 2020

Christine Schmitt, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Christine Schmitt, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Uranus is roughly 1.75 billion miles away from Earth, which makes it difficult to spot without a telescope most nights. But on Saturday, October 31, the seventh planet from the sun will be worth looking for. Uranus reaches opposition that night, making it appear extra bright in the night sky.

What Is Uranus at Opposition?

An opposition occurs when the Earth falls perfectly between another planet and the sun. When this happens, the sun's light appears to fully illuminate the planet's surface, boosting its brightness level to the maximum.

Uranus reaches opposition on October 31 in 2020. During this event, Uranus will hit a limiting magnitude of 5.86, which is about the minimum brightness for what's visible with the naked eye.

How to Look for Uranus at Opposition

Spotting Uranus at opposition will be slightly more difficult in 2020 than in years past. The phenomenon coincides with a full moon that will make dimmer stars and planets—including Uranus—harder to see in the night sky. The planet sits in the constellation Aries, which regrettably appears close to the moon for most of the night.

Uranus should appear as a small, blue-green disc when using a telescope. Even if you have trouble spotting the seventh planet, it will still be worth checking out the night sky on October 31: Halloween this year coincides with a rare blue moon.