December 18, 2017

17.03.11- Mercury: At Last!

Brave New World: Mercury as seen from Messenger during 2nd flyby departure.

 (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington) 

Tonight marks a pivotal moment in solar system exploration. At 12:45 AM UTC on March 18th, NASA’s Mercury Messenger spacecraft will burn its engines for approximately 15 minutes to enter an elliptical orbit around the planet Mercury. Since its launch from Cape Canaveral on August 3rd, 2004, Messenger has flown by the Earth once and Venus twice for a gravitational assist, swung by the innermost world three times, sampled the near solar environment, searched for Vulcanoids, and even done a wide field pan for any tiny Mercury moonlets that may have been missed. [Read more...]

26.05.10: SDO and the Coronal Rain.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory continues to astound. Launched earlier this year, SDO is already providing insight into key solar mysteries. One long standing mystery has been the action of what’s termed “coronal rain.” This long documented phenomenon is caused by super heated blobs of plasma in-falling back to the fiery surface of the Sun. But until now, no one could adequately model the slowing down of this sinking material. It was as if an unidentified medium existed, “cushioning” the fall of the coronal rain. In a recent news conference, SDO scientists revealed a key culprit; an underlying area of hot gas. What makes SDO standout from previous solar observatories is its acute temperature sensing technology. Utilizing its ultraviolet Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), SDO can probe the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere as never before. The picture emerging is of relatively cool (60,000 K) plasma falling through hotter material standing between 1,000,000 K and 2,200,000 K.

All of this portends to a future understanding of our Sun in intimate detail. As Solar Cycle #24 gets underway, Platforms like SDO will study our nearest star in unprecedented resolution. As Dick Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division stated; “I’ve never seen images like this…” Keep em’ coming!