Stellar Nursery

The Herschel Observatory is still responsible for great science even after the four or five-years or so since the end of the mission.

ESA — Stellar nurseries are cloudy and dusty places that shine brightly in infrared light. The G305 star-forming complex is no exception. It features a number of bright, intricate gas clouds heated by infant stars in their midst. In this spectacular image by ESA’s Herschel space observatory, these star-forming hotspots stand out in a blue tone that contrasts with the red-brownish colour of cooler regions.

While there are several star-formation sites dotted throughout this scene, the most striking ones surround the dark, heart-shaped area in the top right of the image. Hidden at the centre of the dark region lie the massive star WR48a and its two neighbours, stellar clusters Danks 1 and 2. All three play an important role in triggering the formation of new stars, even if they themselves are relatively young objects no older than a few million years (for comparison, the Sun is around 4.6 billion years old).

Strong winds and radiation from WR48a and the high-mass stars in the two clusters have pushed away the gas remnants from the cloud where they originated. The swept-away gas, gathered together at the edge of the heart-shaped bubble, is now forming new stars.

Using Herschel, astronomers have identified 16 sites where high-mass stars are forming in this stellar nursery. The region is one of the brightest and most plentiful star-forming complexes in the Milky Way, and an ideal ground to observe and study massive stars at different stages of formation and evolution.

The G305 complex is about 12 000 light-years away and gets its name from its location at around 305º longitude in the plane of our Galaxy. In the night sky, it appears near the Coalsack Nebula, a large interstellar cloud of dust visible to the naked eye and located in the constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross. A very prominent dark nebula, Coalsack shows up in the southern skies as a black patch against the bright, starry backdrop of the Milky Way.

This image, obtained as part of Hi-GAL – the Herschel infrared Galactic Plane Survey, combines observations at three different wavelengths: 70 microns (blue), 160 microns (green) and 250 microns (red).

Launched in 2009, Herschel operated for four years observing at far infrared and submillimetre wavelengths. This spectral range allowed it to observe the glow of dust in gas clouds where stars are born to investigate this process and observe their early evolution.

Image: ESA/Herschel/PACS, SPIRE/Hi-GAL Project. Acknowledgement: UNIMAP / L. Piazzo, La Sapienza – Università di Roma; E. Schisano / G. Li Causi, IAPS/INAF, Italy

SpaceX to Launch the GRACE-FO

Replay when available (if it isn’t on this link). Ground video was out of focus, they had a spot of bother with the auto-focus.

Mission: Iridium-6/GRACE-FO

Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9

Date/Time: 22 May 2018 19:47 UTC / 15:47 ET

Spaceport: Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Orbital is launching CRS-9 and CubeSats

I’m back and have updated the video so it will start at around T-minus 1:00.

Wow, a fast ascent, or at least it seemed it.

Note: I switched video feeds so hopefully this one will provide replays. I won’t be able to check for the majority of the day unfortunately.

Orbital ATK is launching the Cygnus Cargo-spaceship to the International Space Station.

Spaceport: Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia USA)

Launch time: 08:39 UTC / 04:39 ET

Rocket: Orbital’s Antares

Along with the Cygnus are ten CubeSats. Including EnduroSat One a ham radio satellite for Bulgaria (yes many hams in Bulgaria), the CubeRPT an Ohio State University satellite to conduct radiometer radio frequency interference technology validation, and HaloSat, a satellite to examine the galactic halo.

I will leave this feed up for most of the day, but will post replays later.

Note: There is another launch tomorrow after 15:30 UT. The GRACE Follow-on mission will be launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Launching Tomorrow Morning

Orbital ATK will be launching the Antares rocket with the Cygnus space-cargoship bound for the International Space Station.

There will also be ten CubeSats launched at the same time.

Launch time: 08:39 UTC / 04:39 ET

Coverage begins at 08:00 UTC / 04:00 ET


Orbital mechanics is a very interesting topic.

Usually when you see an orbital track displayed on your computer you see a nice sine-wave pattern.

Take the International Space Station for example or perhaps the newly launched Sentinel-3B.

Then we have geostationary satellites like GOES-17, oh yes it is orbiting.

Have a look at the seemingly odd orbit of the recently launched TESS.

Thanks to N2YO for those great links and check that site out – great stuff!

Scott Manely has a good video out: T”he Most Confusing Things About Spacecraft Orbits”

Martian Pac-Man-like Crater

As much as I hate to admit this, I know what Pac-Man is.  You might say “well who doesn’t know Pac-Man?  I remember quite a lot of life BEFORE Pac-Man or those type games.  Ha, kind of makes me feel a little old.

Beyond that, this is a great image from the HiRISE imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).  Be sure to click the image and look at some of the details.  I like the dunes inside the crater.

Here’s the caption from NASA:

This image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows barchan sand dunes, common on Mars and often forming vast dune fields within very large (tens to hundreds of kilometers) impact basins. The regions upwind of barchans are usually devoid of sandy bedforms, so if you were walking in a downwind direction, then the barchans would seem to appear out of nowhere.

As you walk downwind, you would notice the barchans link up (“joining arms”) and eventually slope into featureless sand sheets. We call this progression of dunes a “Herschel-type dune field” named after the first place this sequence was described: Herschel Crater.

But here is something interesting: a barchan dune filling the upwind portion of a small impact crater in a Pac-Man-like shape. This “dune-in-a-crater” is nearly at the highest extent of the field. It is also probably a rare configuration, and over the next few tens of thousands of years the sand will be blown out of the crater.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona



First Light For MarCO (B)

The Mars InSight lander was launched on 05 May 2018 on a course that ultimately put it on the surface of the planet. When the InSight spacecraft was launched it also had two CubeSats along for the journey.

The CubeSats – collectively named Mars Cube One – are known by MarCO A & B. In the case of MarCO-B it also known as Wall-E to the MarCO team.

The CubeSats are pioneering the path to Mars and the mission will be one of many “firsts”.

“NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 when a pair of CubeSats called Mars Cube One (MarCO) reached 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers) from EarthToday we have a first, a look back at the Earth and Moon from MarCO-B, the CubeSat’s Pale Blue Dot.” — NASA

They CubeSats are in for a great mission once they get to Mars. They will be testing their ability to be used as communications relays, they should fit the bill perfectly. Time will tell being a ham radio operator I am pulling for them.

“Mars landings are notoriously challenging due to the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere. The MarCO CubeSats will follow along behind InSight during its cruise to Mars. Should they make it all the way to Mars, they will radio back data about InSight while it enters the atmosphere and descends to the planet’s surface. The high-gain antennas are key to that effort; the MarCO team have early confirmation that the antennas have successfully deployed, but will continue to test them in the weeks ahead.

InSight won’t rely on the MarCO mission for data relay. That job will fall to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But the MarCOs could be a pathfinder so that future missions can “bring their own relay” to Mars. They could also demonstrate a number of experimental technologies, including their antennas, radios and propulsion systems, which will allow CubeSats to collect science in the future.” — NASA

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Antarctic Sunset

Remember the Sentinel-3B launch a few weeks ago (25 April)? Not wasting any time we already have the first image. Actually the image was taken on 07 May, barely two weeks after launch. And what an image it is – a look at the Antarctic sunset!

Sentinel-3B joins Sentinel-3A in the Earth observation mission: oceanography and land-vegetation monitoring, as part of the European GMES programme.

By the looks the data should be second to none. Great stuff – makes me smile.

About the image from ESA: The Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite captured its first image on 7 May 2018 at 10:33 GMT (12:33 CEST), less than two weeks after it was launched. The image shows the sunset over the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica. While the line between day and night is clearly visible, bright streaks glint on the clouds from the sunset. The image was taken by the satellite’s ocean and land colour instrument, which features 21 distinct bands, a resolution of 300 m and a swath width of 1270 km. The instrument can be used to monitor aquatic biological productivity and marine pollution, and over land it can be used to monitor the health of vegetation. Sentinel-3B’s instrument package also includes a sea and land surface temperature radiometer, a synthetic aperture radar altimeter and a microwave radiometer. Sentinel-3B was launched from Russia on 25 April and joins its twin, Sentinel-3A, in orbit. The pairing of the two satellites optimises coverage and data delivery for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme.

The include image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by EUMETSAT, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO