May 28, 2017

Astro-Event: A Very Old Moon Pairs with Venus.

As viewed from North America the moring of Novenebr 5th. (Created by the author in Starry Night).

As viewed from North America the morning of November 5th. (Created by the author in Starry Night).


     This week’s astronomy challenge ties in two potential visual challenges: sighting a very slender crescent Moon and a daylight occultation of Venus. A grouping of the next two brightest objects in the sky after the Sun is always a treat; the challenge comes from the fact that the celestial pairing will be very close to a brightening dawn horizon. Venus just passed inferior conjunction on October 28th; it will sport a 2% illuminated crescent about 60” seconds in size at magnitude -4.2. The Moon, meanwhile, will be about 1% illuminated and reaches New on November 6th at 04:52 Universal Time. [Read more...]

06.06.10: Hayabusa Inbound!

Hayabusa's final trajectory. (Credit: JAXA).

Hayabusa's final trajectory. (Credit: JAXA).


   In one week, all eyes will be on the Australian desert as the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agencies’ (JAXA) Hayabusa spacecraft returns from its heroic mission. Hayabusa has been the original comeback kid, surviving solar flares, fuel leaks, software malfunctions and loss of stabilization and thrusters to hobble home on a looping orbit two years later than planned. Hayabusa sent back stunning images of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa in November 2005, and briefly “touched down” on the orbiting rubble pile in an attempt to gather a small sample. This was to be done via firing several small pellets at the surface, stirring up collection material from the asteroid. Although all indications are that the guns didn’t fire during the probes two ascents, there is always the possibility that dust may have been kicked up and collected in the probe’s sample horn. In any event, a successful container return, empty or not, would be a first from an asteroid. This return will occur on June 13th at about 14:00 Universal Time at the Woomera Test Range in Australia. The sample return capsule will come in at high velocity in night time skies similar to the Stardust comet return in 2006. Several teams will coverage on the area to document the plunge of the 16-inch capsule, including researchers from NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute. Students from Brookline, Massachusetts will also be on hand for this exciting recovery. This tracking will be done aloft from a DC-8 aircraft, and the hopes are to obtain visible and near infra-red spectra as the spacecraft returns. Hayabusa has managed to get this far thanks to some innovative engineers and one surviving ion engine. As of this writing, TCM-3 course maneuvering began on June 3rd, and final precision course change will occur on June 10 to put it on track for Woomera. The craft will release the canister at a distance of 25,000 miles about three hours prior to entry interface; Hayabusa itself will burn up on reentry while the sample container will be slowed by drag chutes. Anyone who remembers the fate of Genesis in 2004 as it slammed into the Utah desert knows what a dicey maneuver this can be. Watch this space, and be sure to follow us on Twitter on and leading up to June 13th for all the latest Hayabusa updates!