Monthly Archives: October 2013


The Martian version of Cooperstown.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Martian version of Cooperstown. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cooperstown around these parts is the home of the (American) National Baseball Hall of Fame.  The Curiosity rover returns this image of Cooperstown on Mars. I wonder if the World Series just completed (YAY Red Sox!!) had anything to do with the naming of the feature.

From JPL

The low ridge that appears as a dark band below the horizon in the center of this scene is a Martian outcrop called “Cooperstown,” a possible site for contact inspection with tools on the robotic arm of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. The ridge extends roughly 100 feet (about 30 meters) from left to right, and it is about 260 feet (about 80 meters) away from the location from which Curiosity captured this view.

The image combines portions of two frames taken by the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on Curiosity on the 437th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission inside Gale Crater on Mars (Oct. 28, 2013).

Curiosity had just completed the mission’s first use of two-sol autonomous driving. It resumed autonomous driving on Sol 437 where it had left off driving on Sol 436 (Oct. 27, 2013). In autonomous driving, the rover itself chooses the best route to reach designated waypoints, using onboard analysis of stereo images that it takes during pauses in the drive. The combined two-sol drive that brought Curiosity to this vantage point, for seeing Cooperstown, covered about 410 feet (125 meters).

The left edge of the scene is toward south-southwest, with an edge of Mount Sharp on the horizon; the right edge is toward the west, with part of the rim of Gale Crater on the horizon.

Proxima Centauri

Hubble's look at Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble via Spaceref
Hubble’s look at Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESA/NASA/Hubble via Spaceref

A nice Hubble image of Proxima Centauri. It is the closest star to us at (about) 1.3 pc / 4.24 light-years in the constellation of Centaurus.

You would think Proxima Centauri, being so close would be easy to see but not so. Proxima Centuri is a red dwarf that is much too dim to see with the naked eye at a magnitude 11.05 – most of the time. This star is also called a flare star, a star can undergo dramatic increases in brightness.

The brightness increases because of changes in the magnetic fields created by convection throughout the star and this results in an increased X-ray emission pretty similar to our sun. We must keep in mind Proxima Centauri is a dwarf star and while it has a density 40 times that of our sun, it has a much lower mass, around one eighth. What this star lacks in physical stature it more than will make up for in longevity, it is expected to shine for nearly a trillion years.

Proxima Centauri was discovered by Robert Innes, a Scottish astronomer who was the Director of the Union Observatory in South Africa. It turns out the star is part of a triple star system and you are no doubt familiar with two more well known members: Centauri A and B.

ATV-4 ‘Einstein’ Leaves the ISS

ESA’s cargo ship ATV-4 or “Einstein” launched on 5 June from Kourou Japan and has been at the station since it delivered seven tons of cargo on 15 June. It ended its mission and left the ISS on 28 October but not before  it was loaded with trash and liquid waste products from the ISS.  As you can see in the video the separation was very smooth.

Einstein will slowly spiral down until it ends its mission on 02 November (Saturday). The cargo ship will be positioned so cameras on the ISS can record the fiery end of Einstein over the South Pacific as it interfaces with the atmosphere at 1200 UTC.

In the meantime, mindful of Einstein being the size of a double decker bus, I thought it might be visible on a good pass with binoculars. So I looked at predictions at Heavens Above and sure enough there was a pretty good one. Out I went and it was a very nice pass but didn’t see Einstein, tonight’s pass will be a good deal brighter so If skies are as good as they were last night I’ll be looking. Einstein is pretty small, but I am bound to try. I’ll set up a telescope stationary along the path and watch the field of view as the ISS goes by.

NOTE:  Comet ISON is now a binocular target !

I had beautiful skies this morning and spotted ISON even with the moon close by and just using a cheap pair of binoculars.  A check of the magnitude has it at 7.7 and will be improving quickly. Get outside before daylight and have a look if you can.  Look a little east of east of Mars and “lower” in the sky.  How much (and it’s not that far) depends on your viewing-aid with the cheaper binoculars Mars was on the edge of the field of view.

Here’s a video of the ATV 4 / ISS separation from NASA TV:

Expedition 37

The Expedition 37 crew aboard the ISS. Image credit: NASA
The Expedition 37 crew aboard the ISS. Image credit: NASA

I’ve been remiss in not including enough about the ISS in my posts. So to start and change that, here is one of the ISS crew of Expedition 37.

They are posed in the Kibo laboratory.

Pictured (clockwise from lower left) are Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, commander; Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryazanskiy, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, all flight engineers.

The image was taken the day before the Einstein cargo-ship docked on 14 Oct.

Visit the source page for larger version. Should you desire a wallpaper version, you can get that there too.

Canyon of Fire

NASA’s full title: Canyon of Fire on the Sun seems appropriate.

I actually saw this on the news the other night and was thinking “I’m missing an aurora” went running outside and found the sky to be clouded over. I was lamenting that fact until I read the “About” section on the video (linked below) and found out this was in September. Whew! In my defense, the news only showed a portion of the video and that was about a minute in, when the the solar disk was rotated and made it look like the ejection was coming right at us.

According to the “About” section (linked below)on the original video, the filament was about 200,000 miles / 321,868 km long.

Color matters too:

Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun’s magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.


Boomerang Nebula

Boomerang nebula from ALMA and Hubble. Image credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF/NASA/STScI/JPL-Caltech
Boomerang nebula from ALMA and Hubble. Image credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF/NASA/STScI/JPL-Caltech

An image fitting for Halloween from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope, or ALMA and Hubble of a nebula about 1,533 pc / 5000 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus.

The Boomerang nebula is known as the “coldest place in the universe”. The ghostly shape shown in red is from cold gas molecules as seen from ALMA and the blue background is from Hubble. The Boomerang is known as a pre-planetary nebula, think of the early stages of nebula formation.

And cold? Cold seems to be almost inadequate, the red colored region is just 1 K, that’s one degree Kelvin or -272oC / -458oF. Even the cosmic background radiation is warmer than that.

Check out press release.

I think today is when Europe changes from “Summer Time” so the clocks go back one hour and you get an “hour extra sleep”. Next week it is the US’s turn. Not all locales in either place switch, personally if I’had my way I’d not change either. The thing is, I would not change from Summer Time because I’d like more light at the end of the day.

Also wanted to mention yesterday we had a close visit from a newly discovered asteroid. The asteroid called 2013 UX2 came as close as 0.39 lunar distance or just shy of 150,000 km / 93,000 miles.  The asteroid is just now leaving the Earth-Moon system as this post publishes.

2013 UX2 is newly discovered, the designation being assigned to the Catalina Sky Survey. Pretty good catch, this asteroid is only 5-meters in diameter.

More info at the JPL Small Body Database.

Data Transmission Record

LADEE Artist concept: NASA
LADEE Artist concept: NASA

Part of the LADEE mission is the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD). This involves of communicating with the LADEE spacecraft currently in orbit around the moon from a ground station by laser beam! I am amazed at the exquisite aiming and tracking accuracy necessary to pull it off successfully in record setting fashion.

The record download rate was 622 Mbps and an error free upload rate of 20 Mbps from the New Mexico ground station. This is the first step down a long road and who knows where it might lead:

From the NASA press release:

“LLCD is the first step on our roadmap toward building the next generation of space communication capability,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation (SCaN) in Washington. “We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon.”

Gaia Delay

Gaia stands for Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics, although the mission has been around long enough the name is no longer representative of the methods used to conduct the science objectives. Now Gaia has been delayed for just a little longer.

So what happened? Gaia was delivered to the Kourou launch site to be readied for a November launch. Then just a couple days ago ESA announced the delay because of “a technical issue” identified in another satellite already in orbit. All we (and really need to) know about the specific issues for the delay is there is concern about components used in two of the transponders used to generate “timing signals” for downlinking the science telemetry.

ESA in a prudent move has decided to return the spacecraft to Europe to replace and verify the potentially faulty components. In a mission that has been “on the books since the year 2000, a month or two to “get it right” is the right thing to do.

measure the positions of ~1 billion stars both in our Galaxy and other members of the Local Group, with an accuracy down to 24 μas

perform spectral and photometric measurements of all objects

derive space velocities of the Galaxy’s constituent stars using the stellar distances and motions

create a three-dimensional structural map of the Galaxy.

More about this exciting mission is outlined in ESA’s Gaia Fact Sheet.

Shapely Supercluster

Shapley Supercluster.  Credit: ESA
Shapley Supercluster. Credit: ESA

We sometimes tend to take a provincial view when looking out into space-time. Meaning we see our Milky Way and other galaxies like Andromeda as separate entities. Nothing wrong with that. Yet when we step back and take a deeper look we find galaxies that are part of clusters of galaxies and superclusters.

ESA’s Planck satellite has been looking at these clusters and superclusters, in fact it has looked at over a thousand clusters and superclusters and this included interacting clusters. Pretty mind boggling, but this is one of the reasons the universe is as smooth as it is.

Space-time? Yeah, I’ve been reading Hawking again :mrgreen:

so here is the ESA press release to go with this collaborative image they put together of the Shapely Supercluster:

While scanning the sky for the oldest cosmic light, ESA’s Planck satellite has captured snapshots of some of the largest objects populating the Universe today: galaxy clusters and superclusters.

Several hundred galaxies and the huge amounts of gas that permeate them are depicted in this view of the core of the Shapley Supercluster, the largest cosmic structure in the local Universe.

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Earth on 9 October 2013 from Juno. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
Earth on 9 October 2013 from the Juno spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

The Juno spacecraft  used Earth in a gravity assist on its way to Jupiter and took this image of Earth on the way by.  Little wonder it made the NASA Image of the Day.

From NASA:

On Oct. 9, Juno flew by Earth using the home planet’s gravity to get a boost needed to reach Jupiter. The JunoCam caught this image of Earth, and other instruments were tested to ensure they work as designed during a close planetary encounter.


The Juno spacecraft was launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 5, 2011. Juno’s rocket, the Atlas 551, was only capable of giving Juno enough energy or speed to reach the asteroid belt, at which point the Sun’s gravity pulled Juno back toward the inner solar system. The Earth flyby gravity assist increases the spacecraft’s speed to put it on course for arrival at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.