Build a TDRS Satellite

Here’s a good project for the younger set.

The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) project is dedicated to providing science, technology, engineering, art and math curricula and activities to teachers and students worldwide. In this video, learn how to build your own paper TDRS.

New Zealand Quake of 2016

Our Earth observing satellites are constantly returning data of all types to us. The ARIA project, a wonderful collaboration shows us changes in surface displacements along two axis and it is quite amazing. Mother Earth is powerful!

The press release was timely because I was “told” just the other day the solar wind was causing the “increased” earthquake activity recently. I was helpless, all I could do is give the person a blank stare – lol. I don’t think I got to the drooling stage before the person explained they did hear it on the internet so it had to be true.

No it isn’t true about the solar wind and earthquake relationship – sorry. My blank stare was returned with the same when I explained I am open-minded about such things and please point me to the corroborating data and papers to support the conclusion. So take all those claims with a grain of salt.

Do check out the (really good) press release:
NASA and its partners are contributing important observations and expertise to the ongoing response to the Nov. 14, 2016, magnitude 7.8 Kaikoura earthquake in New Zealand. This shallow earthquake was so complex and unusual, it is likely to change how scientists think about earthquake hazards in plate boundary zones around the world.

Scientists with the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis project (ARIA), a collaboration between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and Caltech in Pasadena, analyzed interferometric synthetic aperture radar images from the PALSAR-2 instrument on the ALOS-2 satellite operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to calculate maps of the deformation of Earth’s surface caused by the quake. Two maps show motion of the surface in two different directions. Each false-color map shows the amount of permanent surface movement caused almost entirely by the earthquake, as viewed by the satellite, during a 28-day interval between two ALOS-2 wide-swath images acquired on Oct. 18 and Nov. 15, 2016.

In these two new maps made from the wide-swath images, the colors of the surface displacements are proportional to the surface motion. The wide-swath images cover the entire 106-mile (170-kilometer) length of the complex set of earthquake ruptures. The arrows show the direction of the radar motion measurement.

In the left image, the blue and purple tones show the areas where the land around the Kaikoura peninsula in the Marlborough region of New Zealand’s South Island has moved toward the satellite by up to 13.2 feet (4 meters), both eastward and upward. In the right image, the blue and purple tones show the areas that moved to the north by up to 30 feet (9 meters) and green tones show the area that moved to the south. The sharp line of color change is across the Kekerengu Fault, which had the largest amount of motion in the earthquake. Field studies found maximum rupture at the surface was measured at 39 feet (12 meters) of horizontal displacement. Several other faults have sharp color changes due to smaller amounts of motion, with a total of at least 12 faults rupturing in this single large earthquake. Areas without color have snow, heavy vegetation or open water that prevents the radar measurements from being coherent between satellite images – a required condition to measure ground displacement. Scientists use these maps to build detailed models of the fault slip at depth and associated land movements to better understand the impact on future earthquake activity. The PALSAR-2 data were provided by JAXA through the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) and through scientific research projects. The background image is from Google Earth.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JAXA/Google Earth

VSS Unity Glide Flight 03

As you probably know Richard Branson offered Stephen Hawking a seat aboard a Virgin Galactic flight to space. Hawking told “Good Morning Britian” he immediately said yes.

Hats off to Richard Branson. I think it would be excellent; there is no date set of course. The video above is from one of the latest tests by Virgin Galactic, from just a couple weeks ago and things from all outward appearances look quite good.

Hey, getting into space is one thing, getting back home is quite another ball of wax.

Let’s all hope things go well for Virgin Galactic and Hawking gets to go, I cannot think of a better passenger.

Moving a Boulder on a Comet

Take a look at these images of a boulder that moved on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as seen by the Rosetta spacecraft.  Fascinating stuff.  The boulder clearly moved.  But how?

Here’s ESA’s caption (via NASA):
A 100 foot-wide (30 meter), 28-million-pound (12.8-million-kilogram) boulder, was found to have moved 460 feet (140 meters) on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the lead up to perihelion in August 2015, when the comet’s activity was at its highest. In both images, an arrow points to the boulder; in the right-hand image, the dotted circle outlines the original location of the boulder for reference.

The movement could have been triggered in one of two ways: either the material on which it was sitting eroded away, allowing it to roll downslope, or a sufficiently forceful outburst could have directly lifted it to the new location. Indeed, several outburst events were detected close to the original position of the boulder during perihelion.

The images were taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera on May 2, 2015 (left) and Feb. 7, 2016 (right), with resolutions of 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) per pixel and 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) per pixel, respectively.

Rosetta is a European Space Agency mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by the German Aerospace Center, Cologne; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen; French National Space Agency, Paris; and the Italian Space Agency, Rome. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the U.S. participation in the Rosetta mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

So first I’m siding with the erosion idea by way of off gassing or jets. It seems that a jet strong enough to directly lift a “12.8 million-kg” boulder would lift more material than just the boulder and if it did the boulder would likely show more of an impact mark as the soil looks sand-like. True the same forces could erase those marks but you’d think there would be some physical sign of such a powerful event. Still there are no “boulder-tracks” and again off-gassing might erase the tracks.

The other thing that isn’t explained is this: Is the 12.8 million-kg / 28 million-lb boulder a true 67P weight or is that what it would weigh here on Earth?  OR is this a measure of mass but not stated as such? This is a case where knowing the mass would be helpful. Like I said – fascinating stuff!


Saturn’s Fine ‘A’ Ring

It would be interesting to know how the different sized constituents of the ring are distributed. I would think they would grade out by size.

From Cassini:
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft zoomed in on Saturn’s A ring, revealing narrow, detailed structures that get even finer as the cameras’ resolution increases. Even at this level of detail, it is still not fine enough to resolve the individual particles that make up the ring.

High-resolution images like this help scientists map the fine structure of Saturn’s rings. Features less than a half a mile (one kilometer) in size are resolvable here. But the particles in the A ring typically range in size from several meters across down to centimeters, making them still far too small to see individually here.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 38 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Jan. 9, 2017.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 70,000 miles (113,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 11 degrees. Image scale is 2,300 feet (690 meters) per pixel.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Think Spring!

Spring is in the air and it just arrived in the Northern Hemisphere!  Yes, at 10:29 UTC / 06:29 EDT the Sun crossed the equator.  In reality the Sun’s rays fall directly on the equator in the journey north – see below (Thanks to

Naturally this means the Southern Hemisphere is heading into autumn and hopefully will slow down the tropical systems that have been going on.

Let me tell you Spring will be very welcome here after our recent snow storm of more than 76 cm / 30 inches.  Thankfully it was a very dry snow and settled quickly.

Here’s my poor car at one point:





The Dragon Departs

Here is a replay of the Space X Dragon cargo ship departing the International Space Station. The cargo ship was released at about 05:11 EDT / 09:11 UTC (if my time conversion is correct).

The Dragon will NOT burn up in the atmosphere as some ships do. The returning 5,400 + Lb / 2,450 + kg payload includes samples from a variety of scientific experiments.

The thrusters on Dragon will fire at around 10:00 EDT / 14:00 UTC commencing a deorbit burn which will send the ship into the Pacific Ocean 54 minutes later where it will be retrieved and returned by recovery teams.

As far as I know there will be no live coverage of the splashdown and recovery, however there could be video after the fact.

GRACE is 15

15 years of looking back at us. One of the news stories I remember from back in 2014 was about the water shortage in the US State of California: “NASA Analysis: 11 Trillion Gallons to Replenish California Drought Losses” – 11 Trillion gallons!

That 11 trillion gallon deficient is abating thanks to a very wet and snowy winter. California Drought Status.

Have a look at the GRACE multimedia page.

You’ve Probably Never Seen a Moon Like Pan

Just when you thought a moon was a more-or-less spherical body, we have the Saturn moon Pan.  What in the world universe would create this?

From NASA:
These two images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show how the spacecraft’s perspective changed as it passed within 15,300 miles (24,600 kilometers) of Saturn’s moon Pan on March 7, 2017. This was Cassini’s closest-ever encounter with Pan, improving the level of detail seen on the little moon by a factor of eight over previous observations.

The views show the northern and southern hemispheres of Pan, at left and right, respectively. Both views look toward Pan’s trailing side, which is the side opposite the moon’s direction of motion as it orbits Saturn.

Cassini imaging scientists think that Pan formed within Saturn’s rings, with ring material accreting onto it and forming the rounded shape of its central mass, when the outer part of the ring system was quite young and the ring system was vertically thicker. Thus, Pan probably has a core of icy material that is denser than the softer mantle around it.

The distinctive, thin ridge around Pan’s equator is thought to have come after the moon formed and had cleared the gap in the rings in which it resides today. At that point the ring was as thin as it is today, yet there was still ring material accreting onto Pan. However, at the tail end of the process, that material was raining down on the moon solely in (or close to) its equatorial region. Thus, the infalling material formed a tall, narrow ridge of material. On a larger, more massive body, this ridge would not be so tall (relative to the body) because gravity would cause it to flatten out. But Pan’s gravity is so feeble that the ring material simply settles onto Pan and builds up. Other dynamical forces keep the ridge from growing indefinitely.

These views are also presented in stereo (3-D) in PIA21435. The images are presented here at their original size.

The views were acquired by the Cassini narrow-angle camera at distances of 15,275 miles or 24,583 kilometers (left view) and 23,199 miles or 37,335 kilometers (right view). Image scale is 482 feet or 147 meters per pixel (left view) and about 735 feet or 224 meters per pixel (right view).

See PIA09868 and PIA11529 for more distant context views of Pan.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Star Orbiting a Black Hole

Not just orbiting, but very closely orbiting, only about 2.5 Earth-Moon distances or about 961,000 km / 598,000 miles according to astronomical research coming out of Michigan State University.


The MSU press release:

Astronomers have found evidence for a star that whips around a black hole about twice an hour. This may be the tightest orbital dance ever witnessed for a black hole and a companion star.

Michigan State University scientists were part of the team that made this discovery, which used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as NASA’s NuSTAR and the Australia Telescope Compact Array.

The close-in stellar couple – known as a binary – is located in the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, a dense cluster of stars in our galaxy about 14,800 light years away from Earth.

While astronomers have observed this binary for many years, it wasn’t until 2015 that radio observations revealed the pair likely contains a black hole pulling material from a companion star called a white dwarf, a low-mass star that has exhausted most or all of its nuclear fuel.

New Chandra data of this system, known as X9, show that it changes in X-ray brightness in the same manner every 28 minutes, which is likely the length of time it takes the companion star to make one complete orbit around the black hole. Chandra data also shows evidence for large amounts of oxygen in the system a characteristic of white dwarfs. A strong case can, therefore, be made that that the companion star is a white dwarf, which would then be orbiting the black hole at only about 2.5 times the separation between the Earth and the moon.

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