STEREO 10th Annaversary

Get your 3D glasses out if you can. Launched on 26 October 2006 the twin STEREO solar observers were just a few months into their flights when for a time they were situated at the proper distance from each other to allow us to see the stereoscopic view of the Sun.

Part of the NASA caption:

“This footage is from March and April 2007, when the small separation of the two spacecraft allowed a stereoscopic view of the sun similar to how human eyes perceive the world around us. These images were captured by STEREO in several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light which show different layers of the sun’s atmosphere. The number in the lower right of the video shows the wavelength of light measured in Angstroms.”



Juno Update


Good news from NASA and the Juno team. The Juno spacecraft is out of safe mode and everything looks good – so far. Once the instruments are back on and stable the team can relax even if only a little. Finding out the cause of the problem is going to be so interesting. Juno is traveling very close to the surface of Jupiter and it is possible exposure to the local environment could be a problem. Time will tell, but for now all is well.

From NASA:

NASA’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter has left safe mode and has successfully completed a minor burn of its thruster engines in preparation for its next close flyby of Jupiter.

Mission controllers commanded Juno to exit safe mode Monday, Oct. 24, with confirmation of safe mode exit received on the ground at 10:05 a.m. PDT (1:05 p.m. EDT). The spacecraft entered safe mode on Oct. 18 when a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft’s onboard computer. The team is still investigating the cause of the reboot and assessing two main engine check valves.

“Juno exited safe mode as expected, is healthy and is responding to all our commands,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We anticipate we will be turning on the instruments in early November to get ready for our December flyby.”

In preparation for that close flyby of Jupiter, Juno executed an orbital trim maneuver Tuesday at 11:51 a.m. PDT (2:51 p.m. EDT) using its smaller thrusters. The burn, which lasted just over 31 minutes, changed Juno’s orbital velocity by about 5.8 mph (2.6 meters per second) and consumed about 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of propellant. Juno will perform its next science flyby of Jupiter on Dec. 11, with time of closest approach to the gas giant occurring at 9:03 a.m. PDT (12:03 p.m. EDT). The complete suite of Juno’s science instruments, as well as the JunoCam imager, will be collecting data during the upcoming flyby.

“We are all excited and eagerly anticipating this next pass close to Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The science collected so far has been truly amazing.”


Two New Moons?


Could the data from the Voyager spacecraft still be providing discoveries?  Yes indeed!

Credits: NASA/Erich Karkoschka (Univ. Arizona)

From NASA:

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus 30 years ago, but researchers are still making discoveries from the data it gathered then. A new study led by University of Idaho researchers suggests there could be two tiny, previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting near two of the planet’s rings.

Rob Chancia, a University of Idaho doctoral student, spotted key patterns in the rings while examining decades-old images of Uranus’ icy rings taken by Voyager 2 in 1986. He noticed the amount of ring material on the edge of the alpha ring — one of the brightest of Uranus’ multiple rings — varied periodically. A similar, even more promising pattern occurred in the same part of the neighboring beta ring.

“When you look at this pattern in different places around the ring, the wavelength is different — that points to something changing as you go around the ring. There’s something breaking the symmetry,” said Matt Hedman, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Idaho, who worked with Chancia to investigate the finding. Their results will be published in The Astronomical Journal and have been posted to the pre-press site arXiv.

Chancia and Hedman are well-versed in the physics of planetary rings: both study Saturn’s rings using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Saturn. Data from Cassini have yielded new ideas about how rings behave, and a grant from NASA allowed Chancia and Hedman to examine Uranus data gathered by Voyager 2 in a new light. Specifically, they analyzed radio occultations — made when Voyager 2 sent radio waves through the rings to be detected back on Earth — and stellar occultations, made when the spacecraft measured the light of background stars shining through the rings, which helps reveal how much material they contain.

They found the pattern in Uranus’ rings was similar to moon-related structures in Saturn’s rings called moonlet wakes.

The researchers estimate the hypothesized moonlets in Uranus’ rings would be 2 to 9 miles (4 to 14 kilometers) in diameter — as small as some identified moons of Saturn, but smaller than any of Uranus’ known moons. Uranian moons are especially hard to spot because their surfaces are covered in dark material.

“We haven’t seen the moons yet, but the idea is the size of the moons needed to make these features is quite small, and they could have easily been missed,” Hedman said. “The Voyager images weren’t sensitive enough to easily see these moons.”

Hedman said their findings could help explain some characteristics of Uranus’ rings, which are strangely narrow compared to Saturn’s. The moonlets, if they exist, may be acting as “shepherd” moons, helping to keep the rings from spreading out. Two of Uranus’ 27 known moons, Ophelia and Cordelia, act as shepherds to Uranus’ epsilon ring.

“The problem of keeping rings narrow has been around since the discovery of the Uranian ring system in 1977 and has been worked on by many dynamicists over the years,” Chancia said. “I would be very pleased if these proposed moonlets turn out to be real and we can use them to approach a solution.”

Confirming whether or not the moonlets actually exist using telescope or spacecraft images will be left to other researchers, Chancia and Hedman said. They will continue examining patterns and structures in Uranus’ rings, helping uncover more of the planet’s many secrets.

“It’s exciting to see Voyager 2’s historic Uranus exploration still contributing new knowledge about the planets,” said Ed Stone, project scientist for Voyager, based at Caltech, Pasadena, California.

Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, were launched 16 days apart in 1977. Both spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Saturn, and Voyager 2 also flew by Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 is the longest continuously operated spacecraft. It is expected to enter interstellar space in a few years, joining Voyager 1, which crossed over in 2012. Though far past the planets, the mission continues to send back unprecedented observations of the space environment in the solar system, providing crucial information on the environment our spacecraft travel through as we explore farther and farther from home.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built the twin Voyager spacecraft and operates them for the Heliophysics Division within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Summer Skies on Saturn


Be sure the click the image to get the larger version.

The original caption:

These two natural color images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show the changing appearance of Saturn’s north polar region between 2012 and 2016.

Scientists are investigating potential causes for the change in color of the region inside the north-polar hexagon on Saturn. The color change is thought to be an effect of Saturn’s seasons. In particular, the change from a bluish color to a more golden hue may be due to the increased production of photochemical hazes in the atmosphere as the north pole approaches summer solstice in May 2017.

Researchers think the hexagon, which is a six-sided jetstream, might act as a barrier that prevents haze particles produced outside it from entering. During the seven-year-long Saturnian winter, the polar atmosphere became clear of aerosols produced by photochemical reactions — reactions involving sunlight and the atmosphere. Since the planet experienced equinox in August 2009, the polar atmosphere has been basking in continuous sunshine, and aerosols are being produced inside of the hexagon, around the north pole, making the polar atmosphere appear hazy today.

Other effects, including changes in atmospheric circulation, could also be playing a role. Scientists think seasonally shifting patterns of solar heating probably influence the winds in the polar regions.

Both images were taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Hampton University

Schiaparelli Found?

These “before and after” images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probably show Schiaparelli test lander. Initial reports show the thrusters did activate but failed at some point. We will know quite a lot more fairly soon. The decent data has been downlinked and is being studied. I am hearing reports the lander fell from 2 to 4 km; I thought the shield was supposed to separate at 7 km and the parachute was to be jettisoned and thrusters fired at just over 1 km, well below that reported altitude (link).

So we will wait and see.  Here’s the image description from NASA (with source image links):

This comparison of before-and-after images shows two spots that likely appeared in connection with the Oct. 19, 2016, Mars arrival of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli test lander.

The images were taken by the Context Camera (CTX) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on May 29, 2016, and Oct. 20, 2016.

The area indicated with a black outline is enlarged at right. The bright spot near the lower edge of the enlargement is interpreted as likely to be the lander’s parachute, which was deployed and then released during the descent through the Martian atmosphere. The larger dark spot near the upper edge of the enlargement was likely formed by the Schiaparelli lander. The spot is elliptical, about 50 by 130 feet (15 by 40 meters) in size, and is probably too large to have been made by the impact of the heat shield. The location information confirmed by this image will aid imaging the site with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, providing more details to use in interpretation. The main image covers an area about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide, at about 2 degrees south latitude, 354 degrees east longitude, in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. The scale bars are in meters. North is up. The before and after images are available separately as Figure A (from CTX observation J03_046129_1800) andFigure B (from CTX observation J08_047975_1779).

CTX was built by and is operated by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Juno’s Latest


NASA’s caption:
This composite image depicts Jupiter’s cloud formations as seen through the eyes of Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR) instrument as compared to the top layer, a Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem image of the planet. The MWR can see a couple of hundred miles (kilometers) into Jupiter’s atmosphere with its largest antenna. The belts and bands visible on the surface are also visible in modified form in each layer below.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/GSFC

If you were wondering where the new pictures of the clouds of Jupiter are, the Juno spacecraft encountered some sort of issue just hours before reaching perigee to the planet and the computer rebooted and no data was collected. No worries all systems are apparently working normally.

From NASA:

NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered safe mode Tuesday, Oct. 18 at about 10:47 p.m. PDT (Oct. 19 at 1:47 a.m. EDT). Early indications are a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft’s onboard computer. The spacecraft acted as expected during the transition into safe mode, restarted successfully and is healthy. High-rate data has been restored, and the spacecraft is conducting flight software diagnostics. All instruments are off, and the planned science data collection for today’s close flyby of Jupiter (perijove 2), did not occur.
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Yes another launch to the International Space Station, this one from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Two very quick flights to the ISS, but there was another (3rd launch) in the past few days. China launched Tiangong-2 and is well on the path to having a manned space station.

AND by the way, along with the ISS, we might be able to see either of these easily – check out Heavens Above and for more about when to and where to look.

Soyuz Video
China video