RS-25 Power

The first test of 2018 for the RS-25 engine by NASA. The RS-25 power was used in the Shuttle missions and it going to be used in the new Space Launch System (SLS).

Thanks to Videos from Space!

Don’t forget about the launch later tonight or tomorrow depending on your time zone (see previous post).

ULA – Atlas V Launch

There will be a launch of an Atlas V rocket in a few hours:  00:32 UTC (19 Jan) / 19:32 EST ( 18 Jan).

We will have (hopefully) live coverage.  That Atlas V is a beast!

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed for today. I believe due to a valve problem on the ground possibly with the LOX system.

New Launch Day/Time:  00:48 (20 Jan) / 19:48 EST (19 Jan)

Of course we will have replays a few hours after launch.



Sahara Snow

Great look at the Sahara snows. Turns out snow in the Sahara while rare, is not unheard of.

NASA — For the second time in three years, snow has accumulated in the desert near the northern Algerian town of Aïn Séfra. Sometimes called the “gateway to the desert,” the town of 35,000 people sits between the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains. On January 8, Landsat 8 captured data for these natural-color images of the snow in the Sahara. The Landsat 8 image was draped over a global digital elevation model, built from data acquired by NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

According to news and social media accounts, anywhere from 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) of snow accumulated on January 8, 2018, on some higher desert elevations (1000 meters or more above sea level). Social media photos showed citizens sliding down snow-covered sand dunes. Warming temperatures melted much of it within a day.

Snow in the Sahara and other parts of North Africa is infrequent, but not unprecedented. Measurable snow fell near Aïn Séfra in December 2016. Substantial snow also blanketed the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in February 2012 and January 2005.

Image Credits: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and topographic data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission

Titan’s Haze

A newly released Cassini image looking through Titan’s atmosphere.

Original caption: In this view, individual layers of haze can be distinguished in the upper atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan’s atmosphere features a rich and complex chemistry originating from methane and nitrogen and evolving into complex molecules, eventually forming the smog that surrounds the moon.

This natural color image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on March 31, 2005, at a distance of approximately 20,556 miles (33,083 kilometers) from Titan. The view looks toward the north polar region on the moon’s night side. Part of Titan’s sunlit crescent is visible at right.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Best So Far

Wow! What a great job by Kevin Gill the citizen scientist who produced this beautiful image of Jupiter using data from the JunoCam aboard the Juno spacecraft. I think this is the best JunoCam submission so far, really good. You can click the image above for a larger view and go to the JunoCam site to see the full sized version and it is worth it – seriously have a look.  Happily, you might disagree about this being the best so far; after all there ARE quite a few to choose from.

Don’t forget — YOU can also try your hand at working with the JunoCam data to create images like this.  In fact NASA has gone out of their way to make it easy,  When you have something you like you can even upload them to share on the NASA site.  How?  Easy, just go to the JunoCam Image Processing Gallery and click on the Submissions Guidelines link.

Here’s the original caption:

Colorful swirling cloud belts dominate Jupiter’s southern hemisphere in this image captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Jupiter appears in this color-enhanced image as a tapestry of vibrant cloud bands and storms. The dark region in the far left is called the South Temperate Belt. Intersecting the belt is a ghost-like feature of slithering white clouds. This is the largest feature in Jupiter’s low latitudes that’s a cyclone (rotating with clockwise motion).

This image was taken on Dec. 16, 2017 at 10:12 PST (1:12 p.m. EST), as Juno performed its tenth close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 8,453 miles (13,604 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of 27.9 degrees south.

The spatial scale in this image is 5.6 miles/pixel (9.1 kilometers/pixel).

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager.

JunoCam’s raw images are available at for the public to peruse and process into image products.

More information about Juno is online at and

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

The Tarantula Nebula Nursery

Just look at what you can do with a plane and a telescope these days. The SOFIA Observatory is just that combined with a great team. This image was taken with the visible-light guide camera during observations from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Nicholas A. Veronico

NASA – To have a full picture of the lives of massive stars, researchers need to study them in all stages – from when they’re a mass of unformed gas and dust, to their often dynamic end-of-life explosions.

NASA’s flying telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, is particularly well-suited for studying the pre-natal stage of stellar development in star-forming regions, such as the Tarantula Nebula, a giant mass of gas and dust located within the Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC.

Researchers from the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, led by Michael Gordon, went aboard SOFIA to identify and characterize the brightness, ages and dust content of three young star-forming regions within the LMC.

“The Large Magellanic Cloud has always been an interesting and excellent laboratory for massive star formation,” said Gordon. “The chemical properties of star-forming regions in the LMC are significantly different than in the Milky Way, which means the stars forming there potentially mirror the conditions of star formation in dwarf galaxies at earlier times in the universe.”

In our galactic neighborhood, which includes the LMC, massive stars – generally classified as stars more than eight times the mass of Earth’s Sun – are believed to form exclusively in very dense molecular clouds. The dark dust and gas absorb background light, which prevents traditional optical telescopes from imaging these areas.

“The mid-infrared capabilities of SOFIA are ideal for piercing through infrared dark clouds to capture images of potential massive star-forming regions,” Gordon said.

The observations were completed with the Faint Object infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, known as FORCAST. This infrared camera also performs spectroscopy, which identifies the elements present.

Astronomers study stars evolving in both the optical and the infrared to learn more about the photosphere, and the population of stars in the photosphere. The mid- and far-infrared data from SOFIA reaffirm dust temperature and mass accretion rates that are consistent with prior research of the LMC.

“We want to combine as many observations as we can from the optical, as seen through images from the Hubble Space Telescope, all the way out to the far infrared, imaged using the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory, to get as broad a picture as possible,” Gordon continued. “No previous researchers have used FORCAST’s wavelength range to effectively study massive star formations. We needed SOFIA to fill in the 20- to 40-micron gap to give us the whole picture of what’s taking place.”

In summer 2017, further research of the Tarantula Nebula was accomplished aboard SOFIA during the observatory’s six-week science campaign operating from Christchurch, New Zealand, to study the sky in the Southern Hemisphere. Gordon and his team are hopeful that when analyzed, data obtained from the Christchurch flights will reveal previously undiscovered young massive stars forming in the region, which have never been observed outside of the Milky Way.

SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Hangar 703, in Palmdale, California.

The Value of the Moon

Thanks ESA!

ESA – Advocate of a human return on the Moon, Paul D. Spudis, Senior Staff Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston (Texas, USA), takes us on a journey to rediscover the value of lunar exploration, a topic on which he has spent more than 40 years of study, thought and publications.

Fly Through the Orion Nebula

Using actual scientific data along with Hollywood techniques, a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California put together this excellent visualization. Thanks to NASA for the video.

Parker Solar Probe

I happened to think about the Parker Solar Probe scheduled to be launched between 31 July and 19 August 2018.  This launch also uses the Delta IV the same family of lift vehicles as the NROL – 47 launch today uses although the Parker Solar Probe will use the Delta IV heavy.

Actually the Delta IV is rather versatile, coming in different lift strengths, the NROL-47 uses a Delta IV Medium (5,2) version that can put 10,220 kg / 22,500 lbs into Low Earth Orbit, where as the Delta IV Heavy can put 25,980 kg / 57,300 lbs into that same LEO.

There will be more about Parker Solar Probe coming in time and what a mission this will be.  The probe will come within 5.95 million km / 3.7 million miles from the surface of the Sun at closest approach.  Yes it will get HOT, the sun shade will reach an estimated 1,377 deg C / 2,500 deg F.  The spacecraft will also be moving VERY fast at that point whizzing by at an astounding 700,000 kmh / 438,000 mph!!