October 23, 2017

28.05.11: Spiders in SPACE (…ACE).

A Terrestrial Golden Orb Spider. (Image Credit: NASA & Danielle Anthony).

The recent final mission of the space shuttle Endeavour brought some very special residents to the International Space Station. Delivered in the cargo manifest of STS-134 was the Commercial Generic Bio-processing Apparatus Science Insert -05 containing a pair of golden orb spiders. [Read more...]

Review: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach.

Consider our bags packed!

Behind every modern day manned mission to space is a fascinating tale of how we got there and what it’s truly like to live and work in such a bizarre and hostile environment. If the average American does bother to watch NASA TV, they rarely stop to think of what amount of planning and preparation goes in to putting humans into space. [Read more...]

26.05.11: Farewell, Spirit…

Spirit: A self-portrait. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

This week, amid news of distant gamma ray bursts, daring spacewalks, and spacecraft redesigns, a small story came our way of the end of an era; earlier this week, NASA announced that it would no longer attempt to hail the Spirit Lander on the surface of Mars. [Read more...]

15.05.11: Gravity Probe B Scores Another One for Einstein.

One of the Gravity Probe B Spheroids…(Credit: NASA/Don Harley)

A mission decades in the making has come to fruition. Recently, scientists have announced the results of the Gravity Probe B experiment. This mission was conceived way back in 1963 and had to await the birth of entirely new technologies before even reaching orbit. [Read more...]

14.05.11: Finding NASA’s NEEMO.

“Aqua-nauts” at work on NEEMO. (Credit: NASA).

A mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid will be unlike any other that NASA has undertaken to date. Gravity will be negligible, and astronauts will have to work in an unknown environment far from Earth. To this end, NASA has begun set-up earlier this week of an exciting new project off of the Florida Keys. [Read more...]

11.05.11: Voyager: The Humanoids Where Here.

Decoding the disk; are you smarter than a humanoid? (Credit: NASA/JPL).

If we were to vanish from the cosmic scene tomorrow, what would be our most lasting impact? Would it be our monuments, our terrestrial relics, or our broadcasts of I Love Lucy and the Jerry Springer Show? Thankfully, researchers in the 1970’s designed a “message in a bottle” to be tossed out across the cosmic sea attached to the twin Voyager spacecraft. Launched in 1977, both spacecraft reconnoitered the outer planets before being flung on trajectories that will leave our solar system. [Read more...]

Review: What Are Gamma-ray Bursts? by Joshua S. Bloom.

Out from Princeton Press!

In 1888, astronomer Simon Newcomb made the now infamous quip that “we are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy…” One has to wonder what these 19th century scientists would make of the wonderful cosmological menagerie of black holes, energetic galactic nuclei, and the topic of today’s review. [Read more...]

03.05.11: The Mysteries of Vesta.

A projected model of Vesta. (Credit: NASA/JPL/CALTech/UCLA/PSI).

In a string of recent firsts, scientists are about to get a good look at an enigmatic solar system body for the first time this summer. Launched in 2007, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is due to orbit the asteroid Vesta in August of this year, giving us the first non-blurry close up images of the 530 kilometer diameter world. [Read more...]

23.04.11: A Plutonian Atmosphere.

New Horizons at Pluto, an Artist’s Conception. (Credit: NASA/JPL/Johns Hopkins). 

As the New Horizons spacecraft approaches the distant world, Pluto is beginning to seem more planet-like by the day. Recently a team including astrobiologist Jane Graves used time on telescopes perched atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea complex to reveal an intriguing constituent of the Plutonian atmosphere; carbon monoxide. [Read more...]

The U.S. Space Shuttle Program; A Personal Retrospective.

 

Endeavour STS-113 on orbit. (Credit: NASA.gov)

  As we approach what are the last flights of the United States Space Shuttle Program this year, many a media outlet will be revving up tributes, retrospectives and docu-dramas expounding on all that was the shuttle era. Rather than rehash what the shuttle has done, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the role the shuttle has played in my life. [Read more...]

17.04.11: HiRISE on the Hunt.

The inverted streams of the Aeolis Region. (Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona).

Pull out those 3-D glasses, its alien anaglyph time. HiRISE, NASA’s very own high flying Martian orbiter, has been returning some mind blowing pics since entering orbit in 2006. Equipped with a 0.5 meter diameter camera with the resolution usually reserved for a spy satellite, the HiRISE site now boasts an avalanche of 3-D panoramas that provide for an amazing Sunday morning perusal. (Click the image above and watch hours disappear!) [Read more...]

13.04.11: Here Be Shuttles!

The Orbiter that started it all; Enterprise during a drop test. (All photos courtesy of NASA).

The Space Shuttle program may be winding up, but you may soon have a chance to see one of these storied orbiters, in person. Yesterday, NASA officials announced the final resting places for the three remaining orbiters in the shuttle fleet; and the big winners are:

- Atlantis will go to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida;

- Endeavour will go to the Los Angeles California Science Center;

- Discovery will go to the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly Virgina.

And that will leave the Space Shuttle orbiter Enterprise, which never flew into space, to be transferred from the Smithsonian to the New York City Sea, Air, & Space Museum.

  

Discovery in orbit…

A mock trainer, Shuttle Orbiter Pathfinder, currently resides at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Also, hundreds of other select pieces of shuttle hardware and memorabilia will be located to other institutions throughout the nation. The announcement coincided with the 30th anniversary of the launch of STS-1 and Space Shuttle Columbia back in 1981, and the 50thanniversary of manned spaceflight with Yuri Gargin’s first epochal launch aboard Vostok 1 in 1961. During that time, the fleet has experienced highs with the launch and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, the deployment of the Chandra and Compton observatories, and the completion of the International Space Station as well as lows with the tragic loss of the Columbia and Challenger spacecraft along with their gallant crews. As we near the end of the program, look for a personal retrospective on the Space Shuttle and these historic orbiters. (Remember, we launch a shuttle but land an orbiter!) it seems weird that we’ve been flying Space Shuttles for over half of our personal existence on this planet, and a generation has come of age knowing nothing but. Hopefully, a brave new launch vehicle will be well established and performing routine space flights by the next decadal anniversary in 2021!  

    

…Liftoff of Shuttle Atlantis!

12.04.11: The Weigh-in on Wassonite.

A sliver of Wassonite… (Credit: NASA/JSC).

Sometimes, it pays to go back and take a peek at old samples with new equipment. Recently, NASA scientists working in collaboration with South Korean and Japanese researchers have announced the discovery of Wassonite (rhymes with the fictional Kryptonite!) a mineral with a crystalline structure and composition unseen on Earth. The sample comes from a meteorite dubbed Yamato 691, an enstatite chondrite recovered from the Antarctic continent in 1969. [Read more...]

10.04.11: Towards a Brave New Decade of Space Exploration.

Artist’s concept of a Falcon Heavy liftoff. (Credit: Space X).

Earlier, this week, two news articles made their way to us via Spaceflight Now that we thought deserved some weekend editorializing in this space. On Tuesday, SpaceX announced its plans for a Falcon Heavy rocket, which could provide 3.8 million pounds of thrust to place a 58+ ton payload into low Earth orbit or a 15 ton payload much farther afield. [Read more...]

07.04.11: Catching a Black Hole in the Act.

An artist’s conception of a black hole gobbling a star. (Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss).

NASA’s swift spacecraft caught something interesting on the night of March 28th, 2011. Launched in 2004, the spacecraft is designed to detect extragalactic x-ray and gamma-ray flashes. And what a flash they caught in GRB 110328A; a burst four billion light years distant that peaked at a brightness one trillion times that of our own Sun. But what’s truly interesting was that the power curve seen by astronomers was consistent with a galactic mass black hole devouring a star. Word on the astro-street from the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait is that a yet to be released set of Hubble follow up images of the region seem consistent with the burst occurring near the core of a distant galaxy. In addition, NASA’s Fermi satellite, which also watches for gamma-ray bursts, has detected no past activity from the galaxy in question; this was an individual event without precedent. Did astronomers witness a “death by black hole” of a star? Perhaps such an event could occur if a nearby passage of another star put the body on a doomsday orbit. And interesting side note; astronomers established a thread to track GRBs in another pair of science/astronomy blogs that you might have heard of, the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today bulletin board. Much of the initial discovery and follow-up action occurred here, a forum worth following. And they say, “What good is blogging…”

        

05.04.11: Student Tool Aids Astrophysicists.

  

Spectral Energy Distribution for Epsilon Aurigae. (Credit: NASA/JPL CalTech/D. Hoard).

We love it when we can put the words “students,” and “astrophysics discoveries” in the same sentence. Recently, students from San Mateo and Hillsdale High School in partnership with NASA and San Mateo College unveiled a new educational tool for budding astrophysicists. [Read more...]

02.04.11: Stalking an Impact.

Click image to see animation…(Credit: Stefano Sposetti/Marco Iten/Geological Lunar Researches Group).

Take a look at the image above. It may not be one of the most colorful we’ve ever run, but it shows something dramatic; a possible impact on the limb of the Moon. On February 11 of this year, Stefano Sposetti and Marco Iten of Gnosca Observatory Switzerland used a Borg 125 ED refractor and a high speed video camera along with a similar setup attached to a Celestron 11 at a separate location to record the flash on the nighttime side of the then just past 1st Quarter Moon. [Read more...]

30.03.11: Welcome to Mercury!

Brave New World; The extreme northern plains of Mercury. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

   A new resident has taken up orbit around the solar system’s inner most-world. Fresh from orbital insertion earlier this month, NASA’s Messenger spacecraft opened its eyes and began relaying images that have been a web sensation over the past 24 hours. Messenger is currently 6 light minutes from Earth; its looping orbit takes it from a periapsis of about 200 km to apsis at 1,500 km. [Read more...]