December 18, 2017

15.06.10: Found: Lunokhod 1.

NASA has located an old friend on the lunar surface; Lunokhod 1, which landed on the lunar surface in 1970 and fell silent after 11 months of service. A Soviet unmanned rover, Lunokhod 1 delivered some first rate science. Remember, the Apollo astronauts stayed on the lunar surface for a period of time equivalent to a weekend camping trip. With its old school tech, Lunokhod 1 is decidedly steam punk in appearance. Fans of this space will also remember its sister rover Lunokhod 2, purchased by Richard Gariott for $68,500 in 1993. Both were imaged and recovered by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recently, and now scientists are recruiting the rovers to conduct science once again.  Lunokhod 1 was equipped with corner cube prisms, which reflect laser light back at exactly the direction that it came from. On April 22nd of this year, scientists at the Apache Point observatory in New Mexico fired (you always “fire” lasers!) laser pulses of light via the 3.5 meter telescope and were surprised with the results; more than 2,000 photons were successfully gathered on the first try. In fact, the reflectors on Lunokhod 1 are now brighter than on Lunokhod 2, which may be a scientific mystery in and of itself. Scientists hope to use studies in how the Moon moves through space to search out any potential kinks in General Relativity. That’s right; in the true spirit of science, Relativity (and Gravity, for that matter) is still being run through the mill, over a century later. Thus far, reality, as always, looks to be firmly on the side of Einstein, with the help of a now stationary defunct Soviet-era rover!

28.9.9: Messenger’s 3rd Flyby of the Planet Mercury.

The drama in the inner solar system continues… late tomorrow on September 29th, NASA’s Messenger space probe will do its third and final swing by of the planet Mercury. At closest approach, Messenger will be less than 142 miles above the surface and provide more stunning images of the inner world. Wide field UV spectroscopy scans should begin later today, and this gravity assist will be the final pass for eventual orbital insertion around Mercury in 2011. About 90% of Mercury has been mapped, although Messenger is only the second spacecraft to examine Mercury up close after Mariner 10 in 1974…did you know that Mariner 10 created a brief buzz of excitement when it appeared to have discovered a “moon” of Mercury? The anomalous UV radiation was later accounted for by the star 31 Crateris, but it serves as a reminder that we don’t know everything about this tiny world. I also mention this because in the days after its pass, Messenger will conduct a wide angle satellite search as it calibrates its cameras… such a discovery would be just plain cool! Messenger has been busying itself by conducting a survey for any hypothetical “Vulcanoids” interior to Mercury’s orbit, and will conduct measurements with its Laser Altimeter tomorrow during its closest pass. Mercury is currently low in the dawn sky, rising about an hour before the Sun. A very cool time-line is provided for those who want to follow the action!

 

Keep Watching the Skies! by W. Patrick McCray

Quick note: The Phoenix has landed! Full details in next weeks’ post!

The 1950s were heady times for both the public and amateur and scientists alike.

Rarely have the contributions of rank amateurs been acknowledged publicly. In Keep Watching the Skies! The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age, W. Patrick McCray reveals a forgotten saga. It’s hard to imagine that only a scant fifty years ago, “satellite spotting” (a future movie?) was not as common or mundane as it could be considered today. [Read more...]